Protesters demand release of jailed Catalan leaders in massive rally

World Today

Pro-independence Catalans poured into the streets of Barcelona to demand the release of 10 activists and former lawmakers jailed by the Spanish government. It’s the latest in a series of mass protests to support the call for an independent Catalonia.

But as CGTN’s Al Goodman reports, there could be a softening of the hard-line approach just weeks before the region chooses a new parliament.

Police say there were 750,000 people in the streets of Barcelona during the latest rally for Catalonia to become independent from Spain.

In the middle of the massive crowd, human castle builders. It’s an old Catalan tradition, that is now taking on new meaning. They rose up and unfurled a message in support of 10 pro-independence Catalan leaders who were jailed in Madrid.

A drumbeat for secession has increased in the region, but after the Catalan parliament voted for independence two weeks ago — an illegal act under Spain’s constitution — Madrid sacked the pro-independence Catalan government, dissolved the parliament, and called elections for December 21, 2017.

Even so, some Catalan politicians see room for talks with Madrid, a slight shift from independence as the only option.

“What Catalonia wants, or least a majority of Catalans want, is to exercise our right to self-determination,” European Member of Parliament Jordi Sole said . “So we can talk about how and when Catalonia can exercise this right.”

Yet the Spanish government vows there will be no such vote, arguing that one part of the nation cannot unilaterally break away.

Many who protested today wondered how the conflict will end.

“They are stronger than we are,” retired translator Magda Comas said. “They have, well, ‘the law,’ on their side. But the law doesn’t mean always justice.”

For Madrid, justice would be a victory in the upcoming elections for pro-unionist parties, but polls show them in a tight battle with pro-independence parties.

There have been dozens of large demonstrations in favor of Catalan independence in recent years. They’ve become a shared experience for many Catalans, turning out time and time again.

This time, attendees got to see ousted Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, urging them to vote in a video message from his hiding spot in Brussels.