Seeking independence ‘is not a crime,’ Barcelona protesters say

February 16, 2019

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people waving pro-independence flags and holding pictures of jailed Catalan separatist leaders took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday to call for self-determination for the northeastern Spanish region.

Chanting “Freedom!” and “Independence!”, around 200,000 people, according to local police, took part in the peaceful march at a time when the region’s divisive independence drive is back in the spotlight.

The trial of 12 separatist leaders, nine of whom have been jailed since late 2017 or early 2018, started this week in Madrid. They are being tried for their role in a referendum and an independence declaration deemed illegal by Spanish courts.

“I came here today because there are people, with kids, that have been jailed for a long time. It’s unfair because we all voted, so we should all be in jail,” said Josefina Soler, a 70-year-old retiree who voted in the banned 2017 referendum and wants Spain to allow a new vote.

Spain’s public prosecutor is seeking prison terms of up to 25 years on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in Catalonia’s failed 2017 break away from Spain.

“It is a shame to see how they judge in Madrid our legitimate representatives with all the impunity of the world,” said Santi Margalef, a 61-year-old farmer who took part in the march, where many held banners that read “Self-determination is not a crime”.

Catalan regional president Quim Torra and the Catalan parliament’s chairman Roger Torrent took part in the march.

In a further sign of Catalonia’s influence in issues affecting the whole country, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called an early election on Friday after Catalan pro-independence parties joined opposition parties in defeating his 2019 budget bill.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Hugh Lawson)

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