Catalonia crisis: Protesters demand action

Madrid: Thousands of demonstrators rallied across Madrid on Saturday calling for Spanish unity and demanding action to resolve a volatile political crisis over plans by Catalan separatists to declare independence.
Madrid’s central Colon Square was transformed into a sea of Spanish flags as several thousand people joined a “patriotic” march organised by activists to defend the unity of Spain.
Hundreds of others, all dressed in white, gathered in a nearby plaza outside Madrid city hall in a separate rally calling for dialogue to end the crisis, among them families with young children.
The rallies followed days of soaring tensions after police cracked down on voters during a banned October 1 Catalan independence referendum, prompting regional leaders to warn they would declare unilaterally declare independence in days.
Demonstrators marched into Colon Square waving Spanish flags as well as one bearing the francoist Black eagle.
“It’s reached a turning point and we need to get actively involved in the defence of Spain’s values as a nation,” said a 52-year-old Joaquin Penas, an off-duty cavalry colonel with a Spanish flag draped round his shoulders.
If Catalonia were to declare independence “it would be like cutting off an arm,” he said, saying there was “a lot of concern” about the government’s perceived lack of action to resolve the crisis. Tentative signs have emerged that the two sides may be seeking to defuse the country’s worst crisis in a generation after Madrid offered a first apology Friday to Catalans injured by police during the vote.
But uncertainty still haunts the country as Catalan leaders have not backed off from plans to declare the region independent.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block any independence move and has also rejected calls for mediation in a dispute that has drawn cries of concern all over Spain, and even from Barcelona and Real Madrid footballers.
“There has to be a commitment to dialogue,” Jordi Cuixart, president of one of the grassroots groups driving the separatist movement, said on Catalan radio. “We will never refuse that. But we… will continue to demand a commitment that the referendum law be fulfilled.”
The crisis has raised fears of unrest in the northeastern region, a tourist-friendly area of 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

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