Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards rallied in Catalonia's capital Barcelona Sunday, waving national and European flags and chanting "Viva Espana!" to denounce regional lawmakers' vote to sever the region from Spain. PIX: AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

Hundreds of thousands of people took part Sunday in the second mass protest against Catalonia’s secession in a month, as the “silent majority” in the region strived to make its voice heard.

The Catalan Civil Society (CSC), which organized the event in Barcelona, estimated attendance at 1.1 million people, while local police said 300,000 turned up. Attendance figures were similar to another SCC event held three weeks ago.

The rally, which took place in a boulevard near the central Placa de Catalunya from noon onwards, was held under the slogans “We are all Catalonia,” “We are all Spain,” “We want to stay together.”

Anti-secession Catalans are usually described as the “silent majority.” According to opinion polls, just under half of Catalans want to break off from Spain, but separatists are better organized and more vocal.

“Catalonia is very sick. The independence they want to impose is for some, not all, of the Catalans,” Inaki, a 42-year-old engineer, told dpa, while crowds shouted: “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain.”

Ines Arrimadas of the centrist Ciudadanos party, opposition leader in the Catalan parliament, was one of many unionist politicians present.

She called for a restoration of “common sense and democracy” in Catalonia’s institutions.

Feelings are running high in the region following a momentous day on Friday, when the Catalan parliament voted for independence, and the Spanish government responded by sacking the entire Catalan administration and calling new regional elections for December 21.

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called Saturday for “democratic opposition” to Madrid’s takeover, which also resulted in the firing of Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero.

On Monday, Puigdemont and other secessionist leaders could be charged with “rebellion,” a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 30 years, and could also be ordered into pretrial detention, according to multiple reports in Spanish media.

The Belgian state minister for migration, Theo Francken, questioned whether Puigdemont could get a “fair trial” in Spain and said “it is not unrealistic” for him and his allies to apply for asylum in Belgium.

If such a request were to be made, “we will also be in a difficult diplomatic situation with the Spanish government, that’s obvious,” Francken, who hails from the Flemish nationalist party N-VA, told the Flemish VTM Nieuws broadcaster.

“Catalan citizens who feel threatened can apply for asylum in Belgium. This also goes for the Catalan premier Puigdemont. This is perfectly legal,” Francken told another Flemish channel, VRT. “At the moment, there is no application yet,” he added.

Even if they avoid arrest, it’s unclear whether secessionist leaders will run in the December elections, since they contest Madrid’s right to even call them.

In an open letter to the Catalan El Punt Avui newspaper, ousted deputy Catalan president Oriol Junqueras called on pro-independence forces to keep united “without ever giving up on the ballot boxes to validate the [Catalan] Republic” and to prepare for future votes.

According to a Sigma Dos survey published by El Mundo, a pro-union conservative Spanish newspaper, Catalan pro-independence parties would not retain a majority in the regional parliament following new elections.

The secessionist coalition formed by the ERC, PDeCAT and CUP parties would win 42.5 per cent of the votes and 61-65 seats, short of the 68-seat majority, the poll said. In the last elections in 2015, separatists won 47.7 per cent of the vote and 72 seats. -dpa


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