Thousands of demonstrators rallied across Madrid yesterday calling for Spanish unity and demanding action to resolve a volatile political crisis over plans by Catalan separatists to declare independence.
Madrid’s central Colon Square was transformed into a sea of Spanish flags as several thousand people joined a “patriotic” march organised by activists to defend the unity of Spain.
Hundreds of others, all dressed in white, gathered in a nearby plaza ouside Madrid city hall in a separate rally calling for dialogue to end the crisis, among them families with young children.
The rallies followed days of soaring tensions after police cracked down on voters during a banned October 1 Catalan independence referendum, prompting regional leaders to warn they would declare unilaterally declare independence in days.
Spain’s Prime Minister Rajoy has vowed to block any independence move and has also rejected calls for mediation in a dispute that has drawn cries of concern all over Spain, and even from Barcelona and Real Madrid footballers.
The crisis has raised fears of unrest in the northeastern region, a tourist-friendly area of 7.5 million people that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.
Opponents of secession called for demonstrations around Spain on Saturday and in Barcelona on Sunday.
Another group called “Let’s Talk” urged citizens to gather dressed in white in front of town halls, demanding dialogue to end the crisis under the slogan: “Spain is better than its leaders”.
Friday saw the first signs the sides may be willing to step back from the brink in a political conflict that risks destabilising Europe.
After days of ill-tempered rhetoric, Madrid said it regretted the injuries caused in the October 1 crackdown and suggested Catalonia should hold a regional election to settle the crisis.
Meanwhile, splits have emerged among Catalan separatist leaders over their plans to unilaterally declare independence following the referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.
Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont has threatened to declare independence “within days”, but the region’s business minister Santi Vila proposed a “ceasefire” in the row with Spain’s central government.
In an opinion article published in Catalan daily Ara he urged the pro-secession camp to “reflect on the usefulness and consequences” of a declaration of independence.
Puigdemont put off until Tuesday an appearance in the regional Catalan parliament at which time some leaders have called for the declaration to be made.