1.8mn people, 11km line: Catalonians stage their biggest independence rally

People hold "estelada" flags, Catalan separatist flags, as they form a "V" for "vote" during a gathering to mark the Calatalonia day "Diada" in central Barcelona September 11, 2014. (Reuters/Albert Gea)
Europe saw one of the largest demonstrations in recent years: at least 1.8 million people formed an 11km red-yellow line to show their support for the upcoming independence referendum. A mosaic was made in the form of a 'V' for 'vote'.

V for vote

At least 1.8 million Catalans, dressed in red and yellow, the colors of the Catalan flag, gathered on Gran Via and Avenida Diagonal, two of the main streets in Barcelona. Seen from the air, the rally formed a 'V' 11km long. According to the organizers, 'V' represented 'vote', 'victory' and 'will' (voluntat in Catalan).

A handout pictured provided on September 11, 2014 by ANC (Catalan Nationa Assembly) shows an aerial view of a giant Senyera (Catalan flag) formed by several thousands of demonstrators during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona. (AFP Photo)

The number of people participated in the rally – 1.8 million - even surpassed the number of population in Barcelona, which is about 1.6 million. There were more people than the whole population in Luxemburg, Lichtenstein, Monaco or Vatican.

Catalans holding Catalan independentist flags (Estelada) gather on Passeig de Gracia during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Josep Lago)

“Catalunya [Catalonia] is not Spain,” read some for the banners, “Whatever it happens, we want to vote” said others.

"Our culture, our language and our traditions must be respected and we have seen that in this state that is impossible," Bernat Pi, a 24-year-old doctoral student waving a Catalan flag told the Local.

People hold placards with the colours of the Catalan flag as they take part in a demonstration in support of a Catalan vote on independence from Spain, in the northern Spanish Basque city of Bilbao on September 9, 2014, ahead of the Diada. (AFP Photo/Rafa Rivas)

'Ara És l'Hora'('it's time')

"Now is the time," said the slogan seen on the T-shirts of some participants.

A woman brandishes a placard on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Quique Garcia)

"We want a say in politics and our future. We've won back our sovereignty and realized the strength we have, if we mobilize, to change things," Carme Forcadell, head of the National Catalan Assembly (ANC), one of the organizers of the event, told Reuters.

‘On November 9 we will vote'

The referendum is scheduled November 9 in Catalonia. "On November 9 we will vote. On November 9 we will win" read the demonstration's main banner.

Artur Mas, first minister of the relatively prosperous region in Spain's northeast, said that it was "practically impossible" to stop Catalonia from voting. He also asked the Spanish authorities not to see the rally as "a provocation or a challenge," but as "a demand to vote."

A boy wearing Lionel Messi's jersey sits on the shoulders of a relative as Catalans holding independentist flags (Estelada) gather on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Quique Garcia)

Spanish authorities, however, are opposing the independence referendum, saying that the referendum is illegal since the Constitution does not provide such an option initiated by a region, and needs to be blocked.

"I think it's absurd to pretend that could be so and I think the Spanish government will have to realize that," Mas said.

5:14 pm sharp

At 17:14 pm local time (15:14 GMT) a girl who will turn 16 on the voting day and thus will be allowed to vote, symbolically put a ballot into a box, reported Catalan News Agency.

A girl simulates the vote for the independence of Catalonia of November 9 during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

The time was not chosen at random. Three hundred years ago, September 11, 1714, the Catalans lost their independence and sovereignty to Spanish and French forces in the War of the Spanish Succession. Since 1886 it is celebrated as the National Day of Catalonia, Diada.

"Three hundred years ago, they took away our freedom by force. Now we will get it back by votes," Ramon Puig, 66, a retired banker, told AFP.

Human towers formed ‘Victory’, ‘Will’ and ‘Vote’

About 54 groups of people from across Catalonia formed the traditional Catalan human towers. Also there were three stages named "Will”,"Vote" and "Victory", showing the participants’ hope to become independent from Spain.

‘Independent’ Catalonian cakes

The bakers have prepared surprise cakes for Diada, which were painted in Catalan colors of red and yellow. “1714 – 2014” was seen on each cake.

People hold "estelada" flags, Catalan separatist flags, during a gathering to mark the Calatalonia day "Diada" in central Barcelona September 11, 2014. (Reuters/Albert Gea)

Historic sites 'put on' red and yellow

Famous architectural attractions in Barcelona also took part in the national holiday. Sagrada Família, a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, and Arc de Triomf “put on” Catalan flags.

We could do better on our own’ – Catalonian leaders

Local leaders believe that the region will be politically, economically and socially better on its own.

People light torches before a march on the eve of "Diada de Catalunya" (Catalunya's National Day) in central Barcelona September 10, 2014. (Reuters/Albert Gea)

“We think that we could administer our own resources. We could do it better with much more proximity to the people and also we would have a better chance of meeting our needs,” Alfred Bosch, a Spanish MP from the Catalonia Republican left party told RT.

Catalans holding independentist flags (Estelada) gather on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes during celebrations of Catalonia National Day (Diada) in Barcelona on September 11, 2014. (AFP Photo/Quique Garcia)

“So especially in times of crisis when we feel the pinch of the economy and people are really feeling a pinch of this crisis,” he added.

Scottish flag seen as Catalans support Caledonians in their desire to split from UK

Catalans are not the only one who want independence. Scotland is also holding an independence referendum on September 18. During the demonstration in Barcelona, people laid lanterns in the shapes of the Scottish and Catalan flags.

The UK government in London opposes independence, calling on Scots to stay in the UK. However, it has said that it will respect the decision of the voters.

The Catalan independence movement has grown from strength to strength over the last few years, gathering momentum against the backdrop of the EU financial crisis. The autonomous region of Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million and accounts for almost one-quarter of Spain’s GDP.

Catalonia's bid for independence supported worldwide

People from all over the world supported Calalonia's rally for the independence referendum. Twitter users shared photos comparing the planned size of the march to their cities.