In Spain, over one million rally for Catalan autonomy
More than a million people on Saturday marched in northeastern Spain in support of the Catalan region's statute of autonomy, after it was challenged by a constitutional court.
The statute, which was earlier approved by the Spanish parliament and endorsed by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum, gave the regional parliament enhanced powers in taxation and judicial matters as well as more control over airports, ports and immigration.
Police put the number of demonstrators at 1.1 million.
A vast column of protesters was preceded by a huge Catalan flag with the slogan "we are a nation, we decide ourselves" while thousands of red and yellow Catalan banners were visible among the huge crowd.
"This demonstration is the start of independence that we want for our country (Catalonia)" one student told AFP.
The protest was staged hours after the confirmation by Spain's Constitutional Court of the June 28 ruling which removed important parts of the new statute of autonomy.
The ruling, published on Friday, stated that the term "nation" defining Catalonia in the statute had no legal value because "the constitution only knows one nation, Spain."
The court in June approved most of Catalonia's statute of autonomy but changed some of the most controversial points, drawing the ire of the government of the nationalist-minded region.
The statute has the support of the vast majority of political parties in Catalonia, where a sizeable minority would like to see the wealthy region, which has its own language and distinct culture, break away from Spain.
The statute was one of the first initiatives of the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which took office in 2004.
It was approved by the parliament in Madrid in 2006 and endorsed by Catalan voters in a referendum.
Catalonia is home to around seven million of Spain's population of some 47 million, and accounts for 25 percent of its gross domestic product.
© 2010 AFP