The large-scale protest in Barcelona shows there is still significant popular support for the Catalan region to break away from Spain and self-govern.
The celebration marked one year since Catalonia’s unilaterally declared independence from Spain last year. The declaration was not formally recognised by Spain and a referendum on the issue took place but was ruled to be invalid in October 2017.
Carles Puigdemont, who was President of the Government of Catalonia until last year, and his successor Quim Torra both called on those who support the independence movement to take to the streets.
Catalonia 'National Day' rally draws million https://t.co/EWQpcEz93i
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) September 11, 2018
Puigdemont since fled to Belgium after the Spanish government sacked him and 24 other Catalonian leaders and took direct control of the Catalan region. Those at the rally called for the release of those still imprisoned for their role in last year’s failed secession.
Torra made a televised address to supporters on the night of 10 August. “Our government has committed to making the republic a reality,” he said “Long live free Catalonia!”
At the end of the rally, Torra urged those gathered to keep fighting for independence. “We are starting an endless march,” he said.
Around a million people attended the rallies, many clad in the Catalan flag and brandishing flares. The rally stretched across more than 6 kilometres (4 miles) of Barcelona streets.
It was around the same number of people who attended a similar gathering last year.
WATCH: Hundreds of thousands of Catalan separatists gather in Barcelona to celebrate the National Day of Catalonia, known as "Diada." pic.twitter.com/M2iJpPokdy
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 11, 2018
Pablo Simón, a Political Scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid, said there was still significant divisions within the separatist movement.
“The problem is there’s no road map,” he said. “In order to have one, they’d need leadership, and because there’ll be no leadership as long as the tensions continue, the independence movement runs the risk of becoming paralysed.”
The event was scheduled to follow on the Diada holiday, which commemorates Barcelona falling to King Philip V’s army in 1714. In recent years, the day has been adopted as the National Day of Catalonia by the independence movement.
Header image: Beverley Yuan Thompson