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Amid Catalan Crisis, Thousands Hold Rallies in Madrid and Barcelona

October 7, 2017 3:12 PM
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The vote, which had been declared illegal by the Spanish constitutional court, devolved into violent clashes between Spanish national police, who attempted to stop it, and voters. Hundreds were injured, including police officers.

More than 40 percent of Catalan voters took part, with 90 percent casting ballots backing independence.

That led the Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, to announce that he had a mandate to unilaterally declare independence in the coming days.

In response, the constitutional court has barred the Catalan Parliament from meeting on Monday, in an apparent effort to stop regional lawmakers from debating the issue.

Another demonstration is set for Barcelona on Sunday to express direct opposition to the Catalan drive for independence.

After the referendum vote and clashes, the Spanish king, Felipe VI, made a rare televised speech to condemn the Catalan leaders. Three Catalan businesses — the banks Sabadell and Caixabank, as well as the energy company Gas Natural — also announced that they were moving their head offices to other parts of Spain.

Throughout the past week, people in Barcelona have held demonstrations in support of independence, while those in Madrid have gathered in opposition. But Rita Maestre, a spokeswoman for the local government in Madrid, said that most of the rallies on Saturday were “proof that between the noise of the polarized extremes there is a large part of the population that wants dialogue.”

Demonstrators in Barcelona carried banners with handwritten slogans such as “Let’s talk!” It was written in both Spanish and Catalan. One called on Mr. Puigdemont and Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, “to go for a beer.”

“I don’t believe in flags or nationalism because it makes hate and wars,” said Reyes Rodriguez, 25, a publicist in Barcelona. “So I’m here to call for dialogue.”

Ms. Rodriguez said Catalans should be able to hold a legal referendum in the future, but argued that the turnout for the Oct. 1 vote had not given Mr. Puigdemont a mandate to declare independence.

“A lot of people stayed at home because they felt the vote was illegal and they didn’t believe in it,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

Sergi Miquel, a lawmaker from Mr. Puigdemont’s center-right party, the Catalan European Democratic Party, said the turnout at the referendum would have been far higher had the police not acted so violently against voters.

“Some people were afraid, I’m sure, and some people could not vote” because the police would not let them, Mr. Miquel said.

Representatives of the independence movement said that they hoped Mr. Puigdemont would follow through with his promise to secede.

Further dialogue is pointless, said Benet Salellas, a member of the Catalan Parliament and a representative of the Popular Unity Candidacy, a far-left group.

“The Spanish kingdom does not want to talk with us and so the only way for the Spanish kingdom to be forced into dialogue with us is to make a declaration of independence,” Mr. Salellas said.

The Spanish government had no interest in allowing a legal referendum to happen, leaving Catalonia with no other choice but to secede, Mr. Salellas added.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “We tried, I think, 16 times, asking by letter, going to the Spanish Parliament, going to the Spanish constitutional court. In all the ways you can imagine we asked for an agreement for a referendum, and the Spanish state always said no.”

Also read: ‘May will hold ANOTHER REFERENDUM to avoid election HUMILIATION,’ says Rachel Johnson


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