Massive march on Barcelona streets protest jailing of Catalan leaders
Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on April 15 to protest the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders facing trial on "rebellion" charges.
Many chanted "Freedom for the political prisoners" as they marched along the Parallel Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.
The protest comes six months after the first incarcerations of top Catalan separatist leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion -- which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a "violent uprising" took place -- over their separatist push.
"Since they could not decapitate separatism, they are trying to do it through the courts," Roser Urgelles, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP at the protest.
"They need to demonstrate that there was violence to execute the sentences that they want, so they invent it," she said, adding: "But we will continue to protest peacefully."
Like thousands of others at the march, she wore a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the jailed leaders, whom Catalan separatists consider to be "political prisoners".
Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catala, has called the use of yellow ribbons "insulting", arguing that Spain has no political prisoners but "politicians in prison".
The Guardia Urbana, a Catalan municipal police force, said 315,000 people turned out.
The demonstration was organised by two grassroots independence groups, the ANC and Omnium, whose presidents are among the nine separatist leaders in prison awaiting trial on their role in last year’s failed breakaway bid by Catalonia.
Hundreds of buses brought protesters from across the wealthy northeastern region of Spain to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, for the march.
The protest was backed by the Catalan branches of Spain’s two largest trade unions, the CCOO and the UGT, sparking unease among union members who oppose independence.
"There have been tensions (among unions members) just like in the rest of the Catalan society," the secretary general of the Catalan branch of UGT, Camil Ros, told AFP.
"But it is not a separatist protest. It is time to build bridges and the Catalan problem cannot be solved through the courts but by dialogue and politics."
The demonstration comes 10 days after a German court dismissed an extradition request for Catalonia’s ousted separatist president Carles Puigdemont on grounds of rebellion and released him on bail.
Many protesters chanted "Puigdemont, president!"
Spanish prosecutors last week handed over new information to Germany they hope will prove the use of violence which would justify the rebellion charge against Puigdemont and their extradition request.
Puigdemont is also accused of misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1 even though the courts had ruled it unconstitutional.