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Catalan separatists rally in Barcelona to secede from Spain

Published 11/09/2015

Tens of thousands join a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona. (AP)
Tens of thousands join a demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona. (AP)

Tens of thousands of Catalans have swarmed into Barcelona, giving raucous backing to independence advocates as they launched a campaign to elect a majority of secessionists in regional parliamentary elections this month.

The campaign for the September 27 ballot began on the Catalan National Day holiday that separatists have used for years to rally hundreds of thousands of people in the city to call for the creation of a new European nation.

As the protest kicked off, no crowd counts had been released but television images showed at least tens of thousands jamming Barcelona's broad avenues and waving pro-independence flags. Organisers hoped to attract at least 500,000 using the slogan "Let's start building a new country".

The top candidate on a list representing a block of pro-independence parties told reporters earlier that separatists wanted to stage an independence referendum so Catalonia's voters could directly express their sentiment.

But as the central government in Madrid refused, "the only way we can know what the people want is to use the elections on the 27th", said the candidate, Raul Romeva.

Pro-independence parties need 68 seats in the 135-member parliament to push forward. Polls show them on track to win a slim majority.

Independence backers say a win would give the policy makers a mandate to start drafting of a Catalan constitution and attempt secession negotiations with the central government.

A unilateral declaration of independence for the highly industrialised north-eastern region, with a population of 7.5 million and about 18% of Spain's economic output, could be made by the parliament by 2017, separatists say.

"I am willing to go to the end of this process if we have the majority of seats in parliament," said Artur Mas, Catalonia's regional leader. But he said independence aspirations must be put on hold if backers fail to win a majority in the regional parliament.

The central government in Madrid has consistently insisted that independence for the region is unconstitutional. Spanish officials have also said they will not let citizens who live in Catalonia be stripped of their Spanish citizenship.

People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
A man on stilts holds an "Estelada" (pro-independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
A man takes pictures of the Meridiana street with a smartphone during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a giant yellow cursor on Meridiana street as they wave "Esteladas" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators unfold a big "Estelada" (pro independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
A man holds an "Estelada" (Catalan pro independence flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
A woman holds an "Estelada" (Catalan pro independence flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
A man poses with a sign reading "Next stop: Independence" and an "Estelada" (pro independence Catalan flag) past a bus with the colours of the Catalan flag during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
A man poses with a sign reading "Next stop: Independence" past a bus with the colours of the Catalan flag during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Two girls pose with a sign reading "Next stop: Independence" past a bus with the colours of the Catalan flag during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Tourists pose with a sign reading "Next stop: Independence" past a bus with the colours of the Catalan flag during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather at Meridiana street during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather at Meridiana street during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENEJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a giant yellow cursor as they gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO/ GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather at Meridiana street during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators wave "esteladas" (pro independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators wave "esteladas" (pro independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators unfold a big "estelada" (pro independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather on Meridiana street as they wave "Estelada" flags (pro-independence Catalan flags) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Banner on the pavement reads in Catalan "Free way to sustainability". Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators unfold a big "Estelada" flag (pro-independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators unfold a big "Estelada" flag (pro-independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators unfold a big "Estelada" flag (pro-independence Catalan flag) during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
A girl with her face painted in the pro-independence Catalan flag's colors smiles during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Two girls drapped in pro-independence Catalan flags paint their faces during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
A man sells pro-independence Catalan flags during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Young demonstrators, drapped in pro-independence Catalan flags, walk during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
A dog drapped in a pro-independence Catalan flag walks during celebrations of Catalonia's National Day (Diada) which recalls the final defeat of local troops by Spanish king Philip V's forces in 1714, in Barcelona on September 11, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans were set to pour into the streets today demanding independence, ahead of a regional election billed as an indirect vote on breaking away from Spain. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIENGERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the start of the Catalonian parliamentary election campaign. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the start of the Catalonian parliamentary election campaign. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the start of the Catalonian parliamentary election campaign. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People march during a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the start of the Catalonian parliamentary election campaign. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People pose for a picture in front of a Catalan Pro-Independence flag before a Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People enjoy the atmosphere before a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People enjoy the atmosphere before a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People enjoy the atmosphere before a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People walk past a Catalan Pro-Independence flag before a Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: A man kisses to his girlfriend as they take a selfie in front of a Catalan Pro-Independence flag before a Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 11: People enjoy the atmosphere before a Catalan Pro-Independence demonstration celebrating the Catalan National Day on September 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish northeastern autonomous region celebrates its National Day on September 11 which coincides with the kick off of the electoral campaing. Political Parties for and against independence of Catalonia will hold a regional elections on September 27. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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