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Thousands take to streets of Madrid to protest Catalan independence vote

Some Franco-era flags were on display at demonstration in capital. Meanwhile, pro-referendum demonstration took place in Lavapiés neighborhood

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Shouting slogans such as “¡Viva España!” and chants such as “I am Spanish,” around 10,000 people, according to figures from the central government delegation in Madrid, attended a demonstration at midday on Saturday in the Plaza de Cibeles, in the heart of the Spanish capital.

A protest against the referendum in Barcelona.
A protest against the referendum in Barcelona.Samuel Sánchez

The aim of the protest was to object to the planned referendum on independence that is due to take place on October 1 in the northeastern region of Catalonia, whose government is determined to hold the vote on its future despite the poll having been suspended by the Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, around 70 people gathered in the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés, under the slogan “Madrid embraces Catalonia,” in favor of the illegal poll. These kinds of demonstrations were seen in a number of Spanish cities today, with just hours to go until the planned vote in Catalonia was scheduled to begin.

A number of groups of young people scaled the scaffolding on the City Hall building to hang flags and banners

In Barcelona, a demonstration against the referendum in front of the City Hall building, in Sant Jaume square, attracted several hundred people. Similar protests were seen in Valencia, Seville, Valladolid, Santander and Cádiz.

Just before the scheduled start time of midday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the Palacio de Correos in Cibeles square, which is home to the Madrid City Council. Some of them were carrying regular Spanish flags, while some waved the same flag emblazoned with a black eagle, which dates from the era of the Franco dictatorship.

Spanish flags on display at an anti-referendum protest in Valencia today.
Spanish flags on display at an anti-referendum protest in Valencia today.Kai Foersterling (EFE)

Some of the demonstrators, who had been called to the protest by the Denaes Foundation for the Defense of the Spanish Nation, complained to the police on the scene that the area had not been closed off to traffic. But the officers explained to protestors that this was due to the fact that the demonstration had not been authorized by the central government’s delegation in Madrid.

While most of the protestors were middle-aged, youngsters were the protagonists of some of the more symbolic moments of the demonstration. A number of groups of young people scaled the scaffolding on the City Hall building to hang flags and banners. One of the attempts to do so was stopped by police officers on the scene.

Newlyweds in Seville observe the scene as thousands of people take to the city streets with Spanish flags to call for a united Spain.
Newlyweds in Seville observe the scene as thousands of people take to the city streets with Spanish flags to call for a united Spain.Raúl Caro (EFE)

“To defend the great nation that is Spain.” That was the reason that Alberto García, 17, gave for his presence at the demonstration, while at the same time accusing the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of being “unwilling to change.” Many commentators and members of the public have criticized the conservative Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy for having let the situation get this far and not having entered into dialogue with politicians in Catalonia on the region’s powers and finances in a bid to stop the referendum from going ahead.

Other slogans that were chanted by the protestors included: “They won’t fool us, Catalonia is Spain,” as well as calls for Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont to be sent to jail. For several minutes, one group sang the Falangist anthem, Cara al Sol (or, Facing the Sun), according to Spanish news agency EFE. Slogans were also chanted against anti-austerity party Podemos, and left-wing Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena.

I am Spanish and a patriot and I’m proud of the Spanish flag

José Manuel Peláez, 68

The protest finished at around 1.30pm, although several hundred people were still in the area around Cibeles afterward.

“I am Spanish and a patriot and I’m proud of the Spanish flag,” explained José Manuel Peláez, 68, as he carried two Spanish flags on his shoulders.

Meanwhile, in the working-class neighborhood of Lavapiés, around 70 people came out to demonstrate in favor of the right of Catalans to vote on their future. The spokesperson for the platform that organized the protest, Carlos Casas, said that the aim was to send a “message of solidarity to the Catalan people.”

During the protest, a number of residents in the area shouted messages from their balconies, including: “Go and do that in Catalonia!” before throwing potatoes, cans and yogurt at the assembled demonstrators.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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