Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Barcelona have taken part in a large demonstration against the imprisonment of Catalan leaders.
The demonstrators were protesting the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders who are also facing trial on charges of “rebellion”.
While the police said around 315,000 people turned up for the protests, organisers put the figure at more than 700,000, according to local media.
Catalan organisations Omnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) called these protests to mark six months since the arrest of two grassroots pro-independence activists.
The activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, were imprisoned for their role in the independence referendum in October last year.
Chanting “Freedom for the political prisoners”, the demonstrators marched along Parallel Avenue, a main thoroughfare, many waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.
“Today’s demonstration is a march against repression, and we want to show once again that we are not a violent movement,” Lidia Cerda, a teacher who was part of the protests, told Al Jazeera.
“We expect that a lot of people from Spanish and Catalan societies will join our cause because we are not only fighting for independence, but also for democracy.
“We hope that the government in Madrid will start listening to us.”
European Union leaders have avoided encouraging other separatist movements across the bloc and have declined a mediation role in the Catalan issue.
Last November, European Council President Donald Tusk said, “All of us have our own emotions, opinions, assessments, but formally speaking there is no space for an EU intervention.”
However, another protester, Xavier Cid Pineiro, argued, “Europe can guarantee our political rights as European citizens.”
“Sooner or later, the EU should act as a mediator between Madrid and Barcelona. The demonstrations of today are against repression, to demand freedom for our political prisoners and to denounce the passivity of the EU,” said Pineiro.
“I only hope that the EU will see this movement and that we can show our solidarity with political prisoners and their families.”
Spain’s government suspended Catalonia’s autonomy and imposed direct rule after the region’s leader threatened to go ahead with a formal declaration of independence if Madrid refused to hold talks.
Last Thursday, Spain’s Supreme Court refused to release Sanchez, preventing him being named as leader of the region on Friday.
If a new leader is not named before the end of May, Catalonia will be forced to call another election.
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was arrested by German police on March 25 after an international arrest warrant against him was issued by Spain’s Supreme Court.
Puigdemont was charged with misuse of public funds in relation to the independence declaration, as well as “rebellion”, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
However, he was released on bail while awaiting a court decision on whether to extradite him to Spain. He had hoped to eventually return to live in Belgium.
|People hold a banner depicting portraits of exiled Catalan politicians during a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona on April 15 [Josep Lago/AFP]|
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies