Separatists launch ‘autumn of protests’

Catalans demand independence from Spain

BARCELONA, Spain — Hundreds of thousands of Catalan separatists let out a collective shout as they marched along a main artery in Barcelona on Tuesday, marking the first of a series of mass mobilizations demanding independence from Spain and the release of several high-profile secessionists from jail.

With the official slogan “Let’s Make the Catalan Republic” printed on pink T-shirts and signs, protesters went silent at 5.14 p.m., which on a 24-hour clock is 1714 — the year when Barcelona fell in the Spanish War of Succession.

A loud cheer and cries of “independence” and “freedom” followed, sweeping along a 3.7-mile-long stretch of the city’s Diagonal avenue. In a giant symbolic wall, protesters toppled the image of a king of spades playing card in an apparent rejection of the Spanish monarchy.

Barcelona’s local police estimated about 1 million protesters took part. Grassroots organizers said that 470,000 people had signed up online for the rally, with many more expected to join in.

The march on the traditional Sept. 11 holiday in Catalonia called “la Diada” has drawn similarly huge crowds of secession supporters in recent past years.

This year’s demonstration comes nearly one year after an illegal referendum on secession held by Catalan authorities led to an ineffective independence declaration that received no international recognition. Catalan separatist leaders and activists who pushed it, defying Spain’s constitutional protection of territorial integrity, are either in prison awaiting trial or have fled the country.

Quim Torra, Catalonia’s regional president, said Tuesday that while maintaining his pledge to see through the breakaway bid, his immediate focus is on putting pressure on the courts ahead of the trials of the separatist movement’s jailed leaders.