The pro-independence drive in Catalonia received a significant boost on Thursday thanks to a massive street march to demand the right to vote in the planned November 9 referendum on self-rule.
Hundreds of thousands of sympathizers came to Barcelona from all parts of Catalonia, heeding the call of the separatist organizations Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural.
Demonstrators turned the day into an outright call for independence for the region from Spain
After packing 11 kilometers of road along the city’s Gran Vía and Diagonal avenues, marchers called on regional premier Artur Mas not to back down from his promise to hold the vote – regardless of whether or not the central government in Madrid appeals it to the Constitutional Court.
“On November 9 we will vote and we will earn our independence,” asserted ANC president Carme Forcadell. “President [Mas], bring out the ballot boxes.”
While the goal of the march was formally to demand the right to vote, demonstrators turned it into an outright call for independence for the region from Spain.
Turnout figures varied wildly, with municipal police calculating attendees at 1.8 million people, while the Spanish government delegation in the city brought it down to somewhere between 470,000 and 520,000 protesters.
The Catalan Socialist Party did not endorse the march, while a pro-union association called Sociedad Civil Catalana organized its own anti-independence demonstration in Tarragona. Turnout there was between 3,500 and 7,000, depending on the sources.
So far, the central government has not made any statements regarding the show of strength by separatists. Speaking from Vienna, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria said that “[artist Joan] Miró is Spanish, he is Catalan, he is everyone’s heritage because his work belongs to us all.”
A giant “V” created by marchers as they filled the Gran Vía and Diagonal was a symbol of “victory” and “vote”
But the giant “V” created by marchers as they filled the intersection of Gran Vía and Diagonal — a symbol of “victory” and “vote” — led organizers to claim a victory of their own.
Riding on this wave of popular support for his initiative, Mas sent out a new message to the central government.
“A nation that wants to vote cannot be prevented from doing so,” he said, in reference to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s pledge to appeal the Catalan referendum in the Constitutional Court.
A nation that wants to vote cannot be prevented from doing so”
Regional premier Artur Mas
“Today’s great turnout is a loud message that Madrid should listen to,” he added. “The time has come for the government to sit down and negotiate the terms under which the Catalan people may express their will at the polls.”
A few hours before the march, Mas, of the nationalist bloc CiU, had announced that “everything is ready” to officially call the referendum. Barring any last-minute changes, this should occur by September 23 at the latest.