Catalans form giant 'V for vote' in independence drive

11th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Catalans fired up by Scotland's independence referendum massed in Barcelona's streets in red and yellow shirts Thursday, forming a giant "V" to demand a vote on breaking away from Spain.

Drawn up in lines of red and yellow to form stripes with the Catalan colours, hundreds of thousands of flag-waving demonstrators of all ages massed in the sunshine to mark Catalonia's national day, the Diada.

The commemoration, which marks the Spanish conquest of Catalonia in 1714, was more sensitive than ever this year, coming amid calls for a November 9 vote on Catalan independence.

"November 9 we will vote. November 9 we will win," read a banner at the head of Thursday's rally, which filled two converging central avenues in Barcelona.

Scotland's September 18 referendum has put the wind in the sails of Catalans who want full sovereignty for their region in the northeast of Spain, a move fiercely opposed by the central government.

"Nothing would thrill me more than for my first vote to be for the independence of Catalonia," said one demonstrator, 16-year-old Laura Sanchez Lora.

"Now more than ever, Catalonia needs a state that will defend its language, its culture and its economy," she said, waving a Catalan independence flag: red and white stripes plus a white star.

As the V-for-vote formed to the singing of a choir and cheers from the crowd, a girl at the head of the rally placed a paper in a symbolic ballot box.

- Taxes, culture, nationhood -

Spain's national government has branded the November vote illegal and vowed to block it, but Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas has vowed to push on with the plan.

"If a nation such as Scotland can vote, why not Catalonia?" he said in an interview with AFP.

"If the Catalan population wants to vote on its future, it's practically impossible to stop that forever."

He has vowed to pass a regional law that he says will allow him to hold a "consultation" vote, but his efforts risk being thwarted by Spain's Constitutional Court.

The Diada marks what many in Catalonia see as the day they lost their autonomy: September 11, 1714, when Barcelona fell to Spanish and French forces in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Proud of their distinct Catalan language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the national government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.

"Our culture, our language and our traditions must be respected and we have seen that in this state that is impossible," said Bernat Pi, a 24-year-old doctoral student, waving a Catalan flag and a blue and white Scottish Saltire one.

Catalonia formally declared itself a "nation" in 2006 but Spain's Constitutional Court later overruled that claim.

At the height of Spain's economic crisis in 2012, the country's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas's demand to give Catalonia more power to raise and spend its own taxes.

Opponents of secession think cutting themselves off from Spain would be an economic disaster.

South of Barcelona in the town of Tarragona on Thursday, the Catalan Civil Society held a smaller rival gathering to denounce independence as a "dead end".

Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy but it was hit hard by the financial crisis that began in 2008, fuelling a surge in calls for independence.

"It will not be easy because they will put lots of obstacles in our way, but I think we will manage it," said Lourdes Castellseguer, an 86-year-old woman leaning on a walker at Thursday's demo in Barcelona. "I hope I get to see it."


© 2014 AFP

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