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450,000 people gather in protest in the heart of Barcelona

Protesters denounced the incarceration of civil society leaders as well as the Spanish government’s new measures to strip Catalonia of its self-rule

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21 October 2017 09:18 PM

by

Rachel Bathgate | ACN | Barcelona

The chants and rallying cries were deafening today in the heart of Barcelona, with 450,000 people protesting in the streets. The two motives for such a massive mobilization were to demand the immediate release of the two civil society leaders incarcerated without bail awaiting charges for sedition, and the Spanish government’s announcement just hours earlier that Article 155 will be activated, seizing Catalonia’s self-government.

“Freedom for political prisoners”

While the demonstration itself had indeed been planned for some days now, the turnout for attendance was not. Hundreds of thousands turned up in what was originally planned as a march to demand the immediate release of the two civil society leaders of grassroots pro-independence organizations, incarcerated in Madrid without bail. Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the presidents of the pro-independence grassroots organizations Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) are currently imprisoned awaiting charges for sedition tied to peaceful demonstrations and the October 1 referendum vote. This was indeed a focus of the protest, with the slogans “freedom for political prisoners” written on various signs and demonstrators wearing a yellow ribbon in solidarity with the two men.

The “nuclear option”

By the early evening, many more demonstrators were still arriving, flooding the public transit systems and the blocks surrounding the original intersection set for the demonstration. This mobilization happened following Spanish president Mariano Rajoy’s announcement at midday, a mere 5 hours before the march, that the government of Spain will activate Article 155 of the country’s constitution. Indeed, the Spanish government had called this extraordinary cabinet meeting to do just that.

Article 155, sometimes referred to as a “nuclear option,” is a legislation that will effectively strip Catalonia of its self-rule. This means that the current Catalan government will be dismissed, and the central Spanish government will seize control of the Catalan parliament, as well as public entities, media, finances, and the Catalan police. The legislation must be ratified by the Senate before being activated. Yet, Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party holds the majority, so it is almost certain that the legislation will be approved.

An unexpected attendance

The developments also drew major Catalan politicians to the march. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was not originally set to appear, but plans changed. Indeed, he participated in the demonstration, holding signs asking for the release of Cuixart and Sànchez, alongside his vice president Oriol Junqueras, mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, and president of parliament Carme Forcadell. 

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  • Hundreds of thousands march in downtown Barcelona to demand the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànnchez and to denounce the activation of Article 155 on October 21 (by ACN)

  • Hundreds of thousands march in downtown Barcelona to demand the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànnchez and to denounce the activation of Article 155 on October 21 (by ACN)