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REGIONAL POLITICS

Catalans mass to support independence for debt-struck region

Crisis fuels stronger calls for secession on Catalonia day celebrations as premier prepares to negotiate bailout with Madrid

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Around 600,000 pro-Catalan independence supporters take to the streets in Barcelona for the annual Diada or national holiday.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Barcelona and other cities and towns on Tuesday during Catalonia's national day known as Diada in what was a larger-than-normal show in support for independence as Spain's crisis takes a firm grip on the country’s wealthiest region.

Under the slogan "Catalonia, a new European state," people waved the nationalist red and yellow flags. The demonstrations were also fueled by the government of the Catalan nationalist CiU bloc of premier Artur Mas, who has been calling for a fiscal pact with the national government to improve the living conditions of his constituents.

Catalans have been bitterly complaining that they pay more taxes than they receive back in revenue from Madrid, and have demanded more control over their financial affairs. The Catalonia region is to seek a 5.023-billion-euro bailout from the central administration to meet debt maturities falling in the rest of this year, but nationalist leaders clearly hoped that Tuesday’s show of strength could act as a counterweight to any political pressures from Madrid in exchange for the funds.

Catalonia produces sufficient resources to live better than we do"

CiU is pushing for a fiscal pact under which the region would receive funding equivalent to the amount of tax money that flowed out of the region to the central government.

"Catalonia produces sufficient resources to live better than our current living conditions," Mas said in an address broadcast across the region on Monday. He opted not to participate in this year's celebration, but nine of his 11 commissioners and his wife showed up.

The Popular Party had criticized the choice of this year's slogan because it said it sends a message to European partners that Spain is fractured and cannot pull together in the crisis.

Rajoy dismissed the Diada celebrations, saying that Catalonia was facing “serious problems”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had previously dismissed the Diada celebrations, saying that Catalonia was facing “serious problems” and that this was not the time for “squabbles and bust-ups.” Mas and Rajoy are scheduled to meet in the latter’s Moncloa residence on September 20.

During the demonstrations, people held up large letters spelling the word independence. Others carried signs with "Freedom for Catalonia" written in English.

According to Barcelona city officials and the municipal police, some 1.5 million people took to the streets of the Catalan capital. Using its standardized headcount method based on aerial photographs, EL PAÍS calculates that 600,000 people marched in Barcelona. The central government delegation in Catalonia also came up with the figure of 600,000.

Celebrations were also held outside the region, including in Paris, where some 100 people gathered with Catalonia flags underneath the Eiffel Tower.

Thousands of pro-Catalan independence supporters take to the streets in Barcelona for the annual Diada or national holiday.