The Belgian police estimate that around 45,000 people attended a demonstration in Brussels today to call for independence for Catalonia, and for the European Union to alter its position on the secession drive.
The protest, which was organized by the pro-Catalan independence associations ANC and Òmnium, was attended by the ousted former premier of the northeastern Spanish region, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels to avoid arrest in Spain for his role in a unilateral declaration of independence passed by the Catalan parliament.
Europe must realize that it can still play a role in the Catalan crisis
The former health minister in the regional government, Toni Comín, was also in attendance at the march, at which he described members of the Spanish government as “Francoists.”
Speaking at the end of the event, Puigdemont launched a direct appeal to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying that “Europe must realize that it can still play a role in the Catalan crisis.” In the run-up to the declaration of independence, pro-secession politicians had assured the public that the EU would recognize an independent Catalonia, but in the event it refused to do so.
Puigdemont went on to say to Juncker that “those who are demonstrating below your office […] are not criminals, they are democrats,” and asked if he had ever seen “a demonstration like this one in support of criminals,” in reference to the former members of his government and the one-time heads of ANC and Òmnium, who are being held in pre-trial custody in Spain for their role in the independence declaration.
The other four former Catalan ministers who fled to Brussels with Puigdemont – Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret, Lluis Puig and the aforementioned Toni Comín, and who, like Puigdemont, are wanted by the Spanish justice system – also made speeches at today’s protest.
In response to the demonstration, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenza de Santamaría sent out a tweet saying that the participants “were able to attend thanks to their Spanish ID cards and the fact that Spain is a country within the European Union, an institution that the pro-independence movement has also criticized.”
In the wake of the unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament, the central government invoked Article 155 of the Constitution, effectively suspending elements of self-rule in the region. Madrid also called regional elections for December 21, at which Puigdemont will be running as a candidate, despite the likelihood of him being arrested should he set foot on Spanish soil.
English version by Simon Hunter.