Protesters blocked roads and railways in Spain’s prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia on Monday (1 October) to mark the first anniversary of an illegal independence referendum that prompted the Spanish government to take constitutional measures that restricted Catalan autonomy. EURACTIV’s partner efe-epa reports.
Activists from the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), a network of civic groups set up in a bid to uphold the legitimacy of the 2017 ballot and the creation of a Catalan republic, forced traffic to divert on the Passeig de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares, where they gathered with pro-secessionist banners.
Protesters also coated several banks and the Barcelona stock exchange building with pro-independence stickers calling for economic sovereignty from the rest of Spain.
Meanwhile, in Girona, some 100 kilometres north of Barcelona, CDR demonstrators forced the closure of the high-speed railway lines linking the city to nearby France, waving banners such as: “Not forgotten, not forgiven.”
Rail services resumed after two hours of delays.
CDR members also blocked traffic on some of the main arteries near Tarragona. Police in Catalonia were on high alert for the anniversary of the illegal vote.
On 1 October 2017, the regional Catalan government led by Carles Puigdemont unilaterally staged its independence referendum, despite warnings from the conservative Spanish government of then Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, that it was illegal and would not be recognised.
An overwhelming 92% of those who took part voted to leave but many pro-union supporters boycotted the ballot because they did not acknowledge its validity.
The final turnout was around 43% or 5.3 million people.
On 27 October, the Catalan regional parliament – then, as now, dominated by pro-independence parties – approved a unilateral declaration of independence. The Rajoy-led government of the right-wing Popular Party was quick to turn to the Constitution and trigger Article 155, which effectively annulled Catalan autonomy.
Legal proceedings began shortly thereafter and several prominent Catalan politicians and pro-independence figureheads, including former vice president, Oriol Junqueras, former regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn and two leaders of pro-separatist civil groups, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, remained in custody pending an investigation into alleged rebellion and sedition linked to the ballot.
Puigdemont fled with a handful of colleagues to Belgium to avoid an arrest warrant for the same possible charges. The new regional government in Catalonia, led by Quim Torra, has again called on Madrid to agree to a new independence referendum.