Published:  12:20 AM, 12 September 2018

Catalan separatists gear up for mass independence rally

Catalan separatists gear up for mass independence rally Catalan Regional President Quim Torra applauds along members of his cabinet in Barcelona. -Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday for Catalonia's first commemorative day since it unilaterally declared independence last year and pitched Spain into constitutional crisis.

Supporters of splitting the wealthy northeastern region from the rest of the country have in recent years used the Sept. 11 "Diada", the anniversary of the fall of their coastal capital to Spanish forces in 1714, to promote the cause.

This year, Catalonia's leader Quim Torra, who took over from his exiled predecessor after Madrid ended an unprecedented period of direct rule imposed in response to the independence declaration, has called for a mass rally in support of his bid for a binding referendum on secession.

"Our government has committed to making the republic a reality," Torra said on Monday in a televised address to mark the occasion. "Long live free Catalonia." He wore a yellow ribbon in support of nine activists and politicians jailed for their role in last year's push for independence, a big grievance for pro-secession Catalans.

Torra's administration relaunched its campaign to split from Spain last week.  "A supposedly democratic state should allow a vote with an agreed referendum and without police violence," regional government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said on Tuesday.

But divisions over the question of secession are stark in Catalonia, which makes up around one fifth of Spain's economic output and already has a high level of autonomy in areas including education and health, and its own police force. A poll by the Centro d'Estudis d'Opinio in July showed 46.7 percent of Catalans saying they wanted an independent state.

-Reuters, Barcelona

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