BARCELONA: Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia’s capital Barcelona on Sunday to express their opposition to declaring independence from Spain, showing how divided the region is on the issue.
A crowd estimated by local police to number 350,000 waved Spanish and Catalan flags and carried banners saying “Catalonia is Spain” and “Together we are stronger.” They poured into the city center after politicians on both sides hardened their positions in the country’s worst political crisis for decades.
Two more Catalonia-based companies set board meetings for Monday to decide whether to shift their head offices out of the region, adding to the intense pressure Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is under to back away from declaring independence when he addresses the regional parliament on Tuesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Saturday he would not rule out removing Catalonia’s government and calling a fresh local election if it claimed independence, as well as suspending the wealthy region’s existing autonomous status.
Catalonia, which has its own language and culture and is led by a pro-independence regional government, held a referendum on Oct. 1 over secession, in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court which had declared the vote illegal.
The Catalan authorities say the referendum showed voters overwhelmingly support independence.
More than 90 percent of those who voted backed secession, but opinion polls on the issue suggest the region is more closely divided. Turn-out for the referendum was 43 percent, with most residents who wish to remain in Spain staying home.
The anti-independence demonstration, which included Catalans and people from other parts of Spain, underlined how the dispute has riven the region itself. A month ago, a million people rallied in the city to support independence.