BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of people rallied Sunday in downtown Barcelona to protest against the plans of Catalonia’s regional government to secede from the rest of Spain. The march was the largest pro-union showing since the rise of separatist sentiment in the prosperous northeastern region that has pushed Spain to the brink of a national crisis.
Barcelona police said 350,000 people participated, while march organizers Societat Civil Catalana said that 930,000 people turned out.
Those numbers resemble the pro-independence rallies that Barcelona has seen in recent years.
Many in the crowd who marched through the city center under the slogan of “Let’s recover our common sense!” carried Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags. Some chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to go to prison.
Sunday’s rally comes a week after the Catalan government went ahead and held a referendum on secession that Spain’s top court had suspended and the Spanish government said was illegal.
Catalan authorities say the “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, though only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters turned out in polling that was marred by police raids of polling stations on orders to confiscate ballot boxes.
Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence anyway and is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday “to report on the current political situation.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows that his government will not allow Catalonia, which represents a fifth of Spain’s economy, to break away from the rest of the country.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.
Rajoy said that includes the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would allow the central government to take control of the governance of a region “if the regional government does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution.”
“The ideal situation would be that I don’t have to find drastic solutions, but for that to happen there will have to be some rectifications (by Catalan leaders),” Rajoy said.
Rallies were held Saturday in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to demand that Rajoy and Puigdemont negotiate to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades.