Thousands of independence supporters once again marched through Barcelona Thursday, while students at the Autonomous University of Barcelona went on a three-day strike in support of Catalonia separating from Spain. This came after the Catalan government accused Madrid of taking political prisoners, prompting thousands of protesters to gather in Barcelona Monday night, calling for their release. Prior to that, more than 450,000 protesters filled Barcelona streets on Saturday, donning Catalonia’s yellow, red and blue separatist flag and chanting ‘freedom.’
The demonstrations in Barcelona and Catalonia proceeded Catalan President Charles Puigdemont’s declaration of an independence referendum that was held on October 1, 2017. Catalonia’s regional government says that 43 percent of the 5.3 million voters took part in the referendum, despite being advised by the Spanish government to boycott the vote. However, a further 770,000 votes were left uncounted after Spanish police halted the vote.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, with support from the Spanish Constitutional Court, announced on Wednesday that the vote was illegal and would leave him with no option but to invoke Article 155 if Puigdemont does not abandon independence by Thursday. Enacting the article will relieve Puigdemont’s government of its powers and cause new regional elections to be held within six months. Puigdemont declined to hold an early election on the grounds that the Spanish government has not backed down on enacting Article 155. Many had hoped an election would defuse the situation with the Spanish Government. Despite signing a Declaration of Independence two weeks ago, Puigdemont has suspended it for two months.
The European Union confirmed that it will not recognise an independent Catalonia. Spanish Attorney General Jose Manuel Maza stated that if Puigdemont declares independence he will be charged with rebellion, a crime punishable with a maximum 30-year jail sentence. Indeed, the heads of Catalonia’s two main separatist groups have been jailed by Madrid’s High Court, pending an investigation into alleged sedition.
Catalonia is home to 7.5 million people and is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, comprising one fifth of the national economy and producing a quarter of the country’s exports. Catalonian independence would result in significant economic repercussions for Spain. Although is already controls its own policing, education and healthcare, independence will allow the Catalonian government to control its own taxes and foreign policy. Separatist movements were fuelled by the 2008 Spanish financial crisis from which Catalonia has debated how much tax revenue it should be compelled to redistribute to poorer parts of Spain.
The Catalonian parliament is scheduled to convene on Friday. Separatist politicians have the absolute majority in the Catalan parliament and it is expected that a vote declaring independence will be discussed at the meeting.
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