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Protesters rally against Catalan independence in Barcelona

Protesters flocked to Barcelona on Sunday wrapped in Spanish flags to rally against plans by separatist leaders to declare Catalonia independent following a banned secession referendum.

Protesters rally against Catalan independence in Barcelona
Photo: AFP

Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators packed central Barcelona on Sunday to rally against plans by separatist leaders to declare Catalonia independent following a banned secession referendum.

Catalans calling themselves a “silent majority” opposed to leaving Spain broke their silence after a week of mounting anxiety over the country's worst political crisis in a generation.

The crowd waved both Spanish and Catalan flags and chanted “Viva España! Viva Catalonia!” as they made their way through the streets of Barcelona under a clear blue sky.

“We have perhaps been silent too long,” Alejandro Marcos, 44, told AFP.

“It seems that the one who yells the most wins the argument. So we have to raise our voices and say loud and clear that we do not want independence.”

Around 350,000 people attended the rally, municipal police said, while organisers put turnout at between 930,000 and 950,000.

Some protesters called for the region's separatist president Carles Puigdemont to go to jail for holding a vote on independence in defiance of the Spanish government and courts.

“The unity of Spain cannot be voted on or negotiated — it must be defended,” read one sign in the crowd.

Others called for dialogue. The slogan for the demonstration — organised by the Societat Civil Catalana, the main anti-independence group in Catalonia — was: “Enough, let's recover good sense!”

Recent polls had indicated that Catalans are split on independence, though leaders said the violence during the referendum turned many against the state authorities.

On the eve of the rally, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a stern warning to Catalan leaders who have said they could declare independence this week.

He did not rule out suspending Catalonia's regional autonomy — a move that could risk sparking unrest.

“I rule out absolutely nothing that is allowed for under the law,” he said in an interview published in El Pais newspaper.

“The ideal would be not to have to take drastic measures,” he said.

“I would like this threat of a declaration of independence to be withdrawn as quickly as possible.”

Sunday's rally came exactly one week after the contested vote that has triggered Spain's worst political crisis in a generation.

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On Saturday tens of thousands of demonstrators, many dressed in white, hit the streets of Madrid and other cities across Spain to demand dialogue to end the dispute.

Tensions soared after police cracked down on voters during the banned October 1st independence referendum, prompting separatist leaders to warn they would unilaterally declare independence in days.

Tentative signs emerged Friday that the two sides may be seeking to defuse the crisis after Madrid offered a first apology to Catalans injured by police during the vote.

But uncertainty still haunts the country as Catalan leaders have not backed off from plans to declare the region independent.

Puigdemont is scheduled to address the regional parliament on Tuesday evening.

It remains unclear what he plans to say, although some separatist leaders hope he will use the opportunity to make a declaration of independence.

Rajoy in the interview assured Catalan leaders that there “is still time” to backtrack and avoid triggering a tough response from the central government in Madrid.

With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic difficulty.

Scenes of Spanish police beating unarmed voters in the October 1st referendum caused international shock.

Angelo Rossini Calvo, 38, said he planned to attend the protest in Barcelona because he felt the separatist lawmakers did not have a big enough majority in the Catalan parliament to justify the referendum.

“You can't call an important referendum like this, break a people and a country because you have one seat more,” the cabin crew instructor told AFP at his flat in central Barcelona on the eve of the demonstration.

The Catalan government on Friday published final results from the referendum indicating that 90 percent of voters backed the proposal to break away from Spain.

Turnout was 43 percent as Catalans who reject independence largely boycotted the polls,

The vote was not held according to official electoral standards, without a regular voter list, electoral commission or observers.

Dozens more protesters got off the morning train from Madrid at Barcelona's Sants station to join the protests on Sunday.

“A lot of ordinary Catalans felt under pressure so we decided to come and support our compatriots and show them that they are not alone,” said Juan Gil-Casares, 33, who works in Madrid and travelled up with his uncle and cousins.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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