Catalans stage mass march for autonomy

Catalans stage mass march for autonomy

Catalans stage mass march for autonomy

Supporters of independence for Catalonia demonstrate amid growing protests over Spain’s financial crisis. REUTERS photo

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona on Sept. 11 in an unprecedented show of mass support for autonomy from Madrid, blaming Spain’s economic crisis for dragging their wealthy region down.

Crowds waved red and yellow striped Catalan flags, one of the oldest still in use in Europe, and sang the Catalan anthem on a national day, the Diada, marking the conquest of Catalonia by Spain’s King Philip V in 1714 after a 13 month siege of Barcelona.

Road to freedom is open if deal dies: President
The region’s president, Artur Mas, has suggested he could seek independence if he is not given more control over tax raised from Catalonia. “If we cannot reach a financial agreement, the road to freedom for Catalonia is open,” he repeated on Sept. 11.

Catalans held up banners and signs saying “No to the Fourth Reich,” “No to Europe,” “Independence Now!” and “Catalonia: The New European State.” The show of anger and ethnic pride will play into the hands of regional authorities who are trying to force the central government to yield control over taxes raised in Catalonia.

The regional government said the crowd was 600,000 strong. Local police gave figures as high as 1.5 million. Marchers, who had attended Catalan national day rallies for decades, including others that attracted hundreds of thousands, said this was the biggest they could recall.

“A lot of people who were not into independence are more and more into it now,” said Elvira Farre, a retired secretary from Barcelona. “They are being driven into it by their feelings but also by their wallets.” Surging unemployment and financial disarray have stoked a fever of separatism in Catalonia, a comparatively prosperous part of Spain whose leaders say their wealth is being sucked dry by the central government.

The Catalan region accounts for 15 percent of Spain’s population but 20 percent of its economy.