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8 Oct, 2017 14:47

Hundreds of thousands rally against Catalan independence in Barcelona (VIDEOS)

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in central Barcelona on Sunday in opposition to any declaration of independence from Spain, waving banners that said “I am Spanish,” “Catalonia is Spain,” and “Together we are stronger.”

Police said around 350,000 people took to the streets, though organizers put the figure closer to 930,000.

The rally, designed to defend the unity of Spain, was organized by the Catalan Civil Society (SCC) group, with the slogan‘Let’s recover our common sense!’

“Everyone has the right to say their opinion. [Until] today I had the impression that [people] who were against independence couldn’t speak. Today is a great day when everyone in Catalonia can speak,” a French woman living in Barcelona told RT.

When asked about the federal police presence in the region, the woman justified the measure saying that “we can’t forget that Catalonia is still Spain.”

Wrapped in a Spanish flag, another local believes Prime Minister Rajoy should follow the rules and exercise his powers. “He is in charge of our government, he must do something. He must remove some powers from autonomic government, because they’re not following the rules.”

Others saw the Sunday gathering as an opportunity for the Catalans to go out to the streets and say “We’re Spanish as well. You’re not touching our Catalonia, because Catalonia is for everyone and Spain is for everyone.”

“People of peace that are here, we don’t want war, we don’t want conflict with Catalonia. This is our flag, and Catalonia’s is our flag,” the man says, wrapped in the red and yellow Spanish flag. “Viva Espana! Viva Catalonia!” the man called out, as the crowd cheered and joined in his chant.

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More than 2.2 million people across Catalonia cast their ballots in last Sunday’s referendum, which saw a 90-percent vote in favor of a split from Spain. The police crackdown on the independence referendum in the affluent Spanish region led to over 800 people being injured and mass protests, with 700,000 people taking to the streets of Barcelona to vent their anger and voice support for the local authorities.

In the wake of the referendum, Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont pledged to present the results to the local parliament, despite the Spanish Constitutional Court ruling the referendum illegal. The court subsequently suspended the upcoming Monday session of the Catalan parliament, during which it was expected to address the outcome of the popular vote.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said, in an exclusive interview with El Pais on Saturday, that “Spain is not going to be divided and the nation’s unity will be maintained… We believe that we know what the Spanish people are thinking. And they should know that the government also knows what it has to do."

“The ideal would be not to have to take drastic measures, but for that to happen there would have to be some rectifications. I would like the threat of a declaration of independence to be withdrawn as quickly as possible,” he said.

On Monday, the European Commission backed the Spanish government’s stance that the referendum was against the law and called the police crackdown an “internal matter” for Spain.

This led to accusations of hypocrisy voiced against the EU, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic saying: “How come that in the case of Catalonia the referendum on independence is not valid, while in the case of Kosovo, secession [from Serbia in 2008] is allowed even without a referendum?” 

The EU sided with Spain’s national government, and failed to explicitly condemn the violent suppression of the vote.

European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans described the baton charges and rubber bullets used against voters and protesters as a “proportionate” use of force that EU states are entitled to deploy to protect the law.

READ MORE: EU Parliament defends 'proportionate force' after brutal Catalan referendum crackdown

“It is a duty for any government to uphold the rule of law, and this sometimes requires the proportionate use of force,” Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a debate on Catalonia.