Nearly 700,000 people in Catalonia have marched through the streets of Barcelona to protest police brutality during a banned independence referendum and Madrid’s policies toward the already-autonomous Spanish region.
People on Tuesday blocked major streets and traffic throughout the city as participants carried signs and chanted “Independence!” and “The streets will always remain ours,” as some people also raised their hands and waved the Estelada, the Catalan independence flag.
A protest strike was also called by the region’s major trade unions as government workers walked out and businesses and colleges also closed for the day to protest the central government’s crackdown on voters in the Sunday referendum.
Metro stations across Barcelona appeared empty as services were extensively reduced while the usually bustling Boqueria market was deserted. Famous tourist attractions such as the Sagrada Familia Church also shut down for the day.
Protesters shout at a helicopter during a protest march called by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) Catalan workers’ union, at Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona, in Catalonia, October 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Moreover, thousands of people gathered outside the offices of the ruling People’s Party (PP) of Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the city as well as the Catalonia regional HQ of the national police while police officers stood on guard.
Protesters shouted slogans and waved the red-and-yellow Catalan flags, while groups of firefighters played bagpipes outside the PP’s office as the crowd cheered them on.
Even the Barcelona Football Club took part in the protest event, canceling its training sessions for the day.
However, the region’s main unions, the CCOO and UGT, avoided describing the mass walkout as a general strike, rather referring to it as “temporary work stoppage” in a bid to get around laws that ban labor strikes for political objectives.
A man holds Catalan pro-independence flags during a protest march in Barcelona, on October 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The Spanish government, meanwhile, has censured the massive protest as an affront to the rule of law.
Rajoy’s deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, said, “I’ve seen how [Catalan regional] President [Carles] Puigdemont has flooded the streets with his followers to stop people obeying the law and to make them disrespect justice.”
The government in Madrid and the country’s Constitutional Court had declared the referendum illegal, and dispatched thousands of officers from the National Police and the Civil Guard to block the referendum from taking place.
In the operation, nearly 900 people were injured, some severely, as officers used batons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of voters.
Despite the measures, millions of Catalans managed to turn up to cast their ballots, and Catalan authorities have announced that 90 percent of those who did vote favored independence from Spain.
Puigdemont has declared that he will move to begin the process of separating from Spain while appealing for international mediation with the central government.

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