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INDEPENDENCE

IN PICS: One million protesters rally in Barcelona for Catalan independence

Around one million people rallied in Barcelona on Tuesday, banging drums and blowing whistles in a show of support for Catalan independence nearly a year after a failed attempt to break away from Spain.

IN PICS: One million protesters rally in Barcelona for Catalan independence
All photos AFP

Wearing coral-red T-shirts and waving the red, yellow and blue Catalan separatist flag, a sea of protesters gathered for the rally on Catalonia's “national day” which commemorates Barcelona's fall to troops loyal to Spain's King Philip V in 1714.

The annual “Diada” holiday has since 2012 been used to stage a massive rally calling for secession for the wealthy northeastern region that has its own distinct language.

But this year's event had particular significance as a test of strength after a referendum last October 1st deemed illegal by the courts, and the Catalan parliament's unilateral declaration of independence on October 27th, all came to naught.

Demonstrators climbed on each other's shoulders to form human towers, a Catalan tradition, while others carried yellow and black signs that read “Free Catalan political prisoners now”, a reference to Catalan separatist leaders in jail awaiting trial over last year's independence bid.

“We are demanding our right to be a nation, in a democratic and peaceful way,” Roger Pujol, a 37-year-old olive oil producer, told AFP.

At the start of the rally demonstrators knocked down a symbolic wall decorated with separatist symbols, a metaphor for the power of the people to overcome obstacles and achieve independence.

City police said on Twitter that around one million people took part, a similar amount to last year's protest.

Organisers said they had sold more than 200,000 coral-red T-shirts — the colour used in the ties used to secure the ballot boxes during last year's contested referendum.

'Endless march'

“We are starting an endless march,” Catalan president Quim Torra told reporters at the end of the rally.

Further protests are planned for an anniversary of last year's banned referendum, which was marred by police violence, and on the anniversary of the failed declaration of independence.

In a televised address on Monday, Torra said his government was “committed to implementing the republic” Catalans voted for in the referendum.   

But Oriol Bartomeus, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said that “listening to the speeches of the separatist leaders, it seems like there is no plan.”

Opposition parties complain that separatists have transformed the “Diada” into a holiday which excludes the half of the Catalan population that does not favour independence.

“We Catalans should celebrate our national day and not just a call for independence that is shared by less than half of the population,” Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrel, who is Catalan, said in Strasbourg.

A closely-watched Catalan government poll in July showed 46.7 percent of Catalans want an independent state, just ahead of 44.9 percent who were opposed.

Separatist parties won a slim majority of seats in the Catalan parliament in a December election, even though they captured just 47.5 percent of the popular vote.

'No credible dialogue'

But there are growing divisions in separatist ranks between those who want to provoke a clash with Madrid and those seeking a more conciliatory approach.   

“If a separatist is so naive or stupid to believe he can impose independence on the 50 percent of Catalans who are not (separatists), it's clear that they are mistaken,” Joan Tarda, a lawmaker for separatist party ERC in the Spanish parliament, said last week.

The ERC has a taken softer approach than its ally in the regional government — former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia.

Puigdemont was sacked by Madrid after last year's independence declaration and fled to Belgium.

Spain's conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy then imposed direct rule on Catalonia and called early elections.   

Rajoy's successor, socialist Pedro Sanchez, was catapulted to power in June with the support of separatist parties.   

He has offered the region a referendum on greater autonomy, but this was rejected by Torra, who insists Madrid must allow a legally binding independence referendum for Catalonia's 7.5 million people.

“One of Catalonia's main problems is coexistence, not independence. We must encourage dialogue amongst Catalans,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.   

But Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent said “no credible dialogue is possible if those who must negotiate are in prison.”

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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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