The Guardian

September 11, 2014 5:01 pm

Catalans stage mass protest in Barcelona to back referendum

By Tobias Buck in Madrid

People wave ìesteladaî flags, that symbolize Catalonia's independence, during a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Sept 11, 2014. A week before Scotland votes on whether to break away from the United Kingdom, separatists in northeastern Spain were trying to convince hundreds of thousands to protest across Catalonia to demand a secession sentiment vote that the central government in Madrid insists would be illegal. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)©AP

Demonstrators join the rally in Barcelona on Thursday

The Catalan independence movement held a mass rally in Barcelona on Thursday as part of an intensifying campaign in support of a planned November referendum on the region’s future political status.

Dressed in red and yellow, the colours of the Catalan flag, hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled on Gran Via and Avenida Diagonal, two of the city’s main arteries. Seen from the air, the rally formed the shape of a giant V, described by organisers as a symbol of Catalonia’s desire to vote.

The Catalan demonstration was staged a week beforeScotland’s independence referendum, and less than two months before the planned plebiscite in the Spanish region. The Spanish government has said repeatedly that it will not allow the Catalan vote to go ahead, arguing that the country’s constitution allows no space for regional self-determination.

The constitutional court is set to rule on the issue in the weeks ahead, and is widely expected to side with Madrid. Catalan leaders will then have to decide whether to press ahead with their ballot or comply with the court ruling and develop an alternative strategy.

Speaking hours before the demonstration, Artur Mas, the Catalan president, renewed his calls on Madrid not to stand in the way of the November vote. “The message [today] is, ‘We want to vote. We are a nation. We want to decide our own political future.’”

Organisers said the demonstration, which coincided with Catalonia’s national day, covered 200,000 square metres and 11km of road. The Catalan National Assembly, one of the grassroots movements behind the campaign, said it had received more than 500,000 registrations from participants, but expected the final number of protesters to be much higher.

Thursday’s rally is the latest in a series of mass demonstrations held on Catalan national day in support of independence. Last year, activists formed a human chain stretching more than 400km, from Spain’s Catalan border with France to the region’s southern tip.

Dubbed the Catalan Way, last year’s rally was a conscious echo of the 1989 Baltic Way demonstration that highlighted the desire of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to break away from the former Soviet Union.