Thousands rally for Catalan independence before vote

Catalans with estelada or independence flags gather during the Catalan National Day in Barcelona Spain
Catalans with estelada or independence flags gather during the Catalan National Day in Barcelona Spain

14 September, 2017

Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the vote after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy challenged it in the courts.

Barcelona saw a massive outpouring of support for independence on Monday when Catalans marked their national day, the Diada, with marches and rallies.

So far, 712 municipal leaders have pledged to allow the use of public space for the October 1 vote, although the mayor of the area's main city Barcelona has not taken a definitive position. "If there is huge mobilisation, they can't do anything in Madrid", said Jordi Calatayud, a 21-year-old economics student, referring to the October 1 vote.

Spain's state prosecutor is investigating more than 700 Catalan mayors for cooperating with a referendum on independence that has been suspended by a court.

It has asked the 947 mayors in the northeastern region to provide voting facilities.

September 11 marks the 'Diada, ' Catalonia's national day, which commemorates the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and is traditionally used by pro-independence activists to call for secession for the northeastern region with a distinct language.

Most of Catalonia's mayors have said they would cooperate with the referendum.

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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is fighting to stop the ballot and he appealed to Catalans to ignore calls from independence supporters to turn out.

Police have searched a Catalan printing house and a local weekly newspaper suspected of making ballots for the referendum, while Spain's state prosecutor has opened criminal proceedings against Puigdemont and other Catalan officials.

Rajoy said on Wednesday: "If anyone urges you to go to a polling station, don't go, because the referendum can't take place, it would be an absolutely illegal act".

In his first comments on the growing political crisis, Felipe said the rights of all Spaniards will be upheld against "whoever steps outside constitutional and statutory law".

Catalonia, roughly the same size as Belgium, has its own language and customs, and already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.

But Spain's economic worries, coupled with a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid, have helped push the cause of secession from the fringes of Catalan politics to center stage.

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