Hundreds of thousands of supporters of a unified Spain filled Barcelona’s streets on Sunday in one of the biggest shows of force yet by the so-called silent majority that has watched as regional political leaders push for Catalan independence.
Political parties opposing a split by Catalonia from Spain had a small lead in an opinion poll published on Sunday, the first since Madrid called a regional election to try to resolve the country’s worst political crisis in four decades, reports Reuters.
Polls and recent elections have shown that about half the electorate in the wealthy northeastern region, which is already autonomous, oppose secession from Spain, but a vocal independence movement has brought the current crisis to a head.
Spain’s central government called an election for Dec. 21 on Friday after sacking Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont, dissolving its parliament and dismissing its government. That followed the assembly’s unilateral declaration of independence in a vote boycotted by three national parties.
The regional government claimed it had a mandate to push ahead with independence following an unofficial referendum on Oct. 1 which was ruled illegal under Spanish law and mostly boycotted by unionists.
Waving thousands of Spanish flags and singing “Viva España”, protesters on Sunday turned out in the largest display of support for a united Spain since the beginning of the crisis -- underlining the depth of division in Catalonia itself.
“I‘m here to defend Spanish unity and the law,” said Alfonso Machado, 55, a salesman standing with a little girl with Spanish flags in her hair.
“Knowing that in the end there won’t be independence, I feel sorry for all the people tricked into thinking there could be and the divisions they’ve driven through Catalan society.”
SLIGHT UNIONIST LEAD
The poll of 1,000 people by Sigma Dos for newspaper El Mundo showed unionist parties winning 43.4 per cent support and pro-independence parties 42.5 per cent.
The survey was taken from Monday to Thursday, just as the central government prepared to take control of Catalonia.
Madrid said on Saturday that secessionist politicians, including Puigdemont, were free to take part in the election. The hardline CUP has been unclear if it would.
The deposed Catalan government will soon have to make difficult decisions, Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras said on Sunday in an editorial in online newspaper El Punt Avui. He stopped short of saying his ERC party would take part in the election.