Thousands March in Barcelona for Unity

Thousands March in Barcelona for Unity

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Tens of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday to protest the separatist movement in the northeastern Catalonia region that has created Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Barcelona's police said 80,000 people rallied, with many carrying Spanish and Catalan flags. One poster read in English: "We are Catalonians too, stop this madness!!"

The rally in favor of Spanish unity comes after several days of protests — some of which spiraled into violent clashes with police — by Catalan separatists. They are angered by a Supreme Court ruling that gave nine separatist leaders lengthy prison sentences for an illegal and unsuccessful 2017 secession attempt.

While separatists have organized huge marches in recent years as their drive gained steam, Catalans in favor of maintaining century-old ties with the rest of Spain have largely remained quiet except for an enormous rally two years ago during the tensest moments of the separatists' secession bid.

"We feel the need to shout that Catalonia is a part of Spain," said 52-year-old truck driver Francisco Astorga Vasco. "They are trying to make it look like Catalonia is not Spain, and that is not true. Not in the past, not in the present, and not in the plans we have for our future."

Polls and election results in recent years say the 7.5 million residents of the wealthy Catalonia region are roughly evenly divided on the secession question.

Unionists say the separatist cause has monopolized local politics and caused friction between families and friends.

On Saturday, a rally of 350,000 separatists in Barcelona was followed by a clash between police and radical protesters that left 44 people injured, according to regional health authorities. Over 500 people have been hurt, nearly half of them police officers, in clashes since the Oct. 14 Supreme Court verdict.

The Catalan crisis is set to be a key issue in Spain's Nov. 10 national election, where Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will try to stay in power.

(KR)