Thousands march in Barcelona against Catalan independence

Thousands of people opposed to Catalan independence marched in the region's capital Saturday, Spain's national day, with the verdict in the trial of leading Catalan separatists expected early next week.

Thousands march in Barcelona against Catalan independence
Photo: AFP

Waving Spanish — and some Catalan — flags and carrying anti-independence banners, 10,000 people marched in the city centre, according to police.

It was significantly lower than the 65,000 people who took part in a similar demonstration two years ago.

Hispanic Day marks the arrival of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, and some of those celebrating it in Barcelona expressed the hope that the Catalan separatists on trial would be convicted.

“I certainly hope they will be convicted for their attempted coup,” said 60-year-old Pepi Ordonez. “They didn't respect the constitution.”

Twelve defendants, most of them members of the former Catalan government, could face long prison terms if convicted for the 2017 independence bid that sparked a major political crisis. The main charges include rebellion and sedition.

Activists from the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, the two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups, have called for rallies across the region when the verdicts are announced.

There have also been calls for a general strike.

Fernando Sanchez, who leads the main anti-separatist group, Sociedad Civil Catalana, told journalists: “We want to make an appeal for calm and for responsibility.”

“I'm scared that there will be violence,” said another demonstrator, a62-year-old Manuel Rueda.

“All we want, is to start to live again as we did 10 years ago, without separatist or Spanish flags everywhere, when everybody lived together peacefully,” he added.

In the Spanish capital Madrid, King Felipe VI attended the traditional military parade, accompanied by Pedro Sanchez, prime minister of the outgoing socialist government, just weeks ahead of fresh parliamentary elections.

The leaders of all the main opposition parties also attended the Madrid event ahead of the November 10th elections, as did the presidents of all the Spanish regions — with the exceptions of those from Catalonia and the Basque Country.

For years now neither region, both of which have strong separatist movements, has attended the event.

READ ALSO: Spain braces for verdict in Catalan separatist leaders' case

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Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.