Catalonia marks independence vote anniversary by blocking roads, railway line

Published October 2, 2018
A woman screams as protesters confront police in front of the Catalonian parliament at the end of a demonstration on the first anniversary of Catalonia's banned October 1 2017 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain.  — Reuters
A woman screams as protesters confront police in front of the Catalonian parliament at the end of a demonstration on the first anniversary of Catalonia's banned October 1 2017 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain. — Reuters

BARCELONA: Pro-independence protesters obstructed an roads and a high-speed railway line in Spain’s Catalonia region on Monday, a year after a banned referendum on secession was marred by police violence.

“Everything began on Oct 1 and everything goes back to Oct 1,” the region’s separatist president Quim Torra said. He spoke at a ceremony in Sant Julia de Ramis, northern Catalonia, on a stage near a big black and white banner that read “No forgetting, no forgiving.”

Ten kilometres away in Girona, hundreds of activists occupied high-speed railway tracks for around three hours, blocking services linking Figueres, Girona and Barcelona, Spain’s state-owned rail operator Renfe said.

Activists swarmed into Catalonia’s regional government building in Girona and took down the facade’s Spanish flag, replacing it with a red, yellow and blue separatist flag.

Rudderless movement

A year after the contested referendum, disagreements among separatists have nevertheless deepened in the wealthy north-eastern region, which is home to 7.5 million people and has its own language.

Far from uniting the community, it has polarised public opinion, cleaving deep divisions as to the region’s fate.

The independence movement itself is divided and rudderless, with separatist parties that have an absolute majority in the regional parliament split on what strategy to pursue to break from Spain — direct confrontation or moderation.

The protests were called online by a grass-roots group called the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), founded to help stage last year’s banned referendum and now demanding a clean break with the Spanish state.Some called for Torra to resign because he did not push hard enough for independence.

Ana Sarabia, 48, said she was “disappointed “because Catalan leaders had not implemented independence as promised. We want to show them that they are where they are thanks to the people and that we have the power. If they don’t do anything, we will act,” she said while attending the demonstration.

The Catalan government, then led by Carles Puigdemont, pushed ahead with the vote on secession despite the Spanish courts declaring it illegal.

The vote was marred by a violent police crackdown on polling stations that made headlines around the world.

A majority voted for independence, but turnout was low as opponents stayed away.

After the Catalan government declared unilateral independence on Oct 27, Madrid swiftly sacked the Catalan government, prompting several key figures to flee abroad, including Puigdemont. Others were jailed.

In total, 13 separatist leaders have been charged with rebellion, nine of whom are in preventative custody in Spain awaiting trial, while four others are in self-exile in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2018

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