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Thousands at rally opposing Catalan split as Nobel author attacks ‘nationalist plot’

By Alasdair Fotheringham

Hundreds of thousands of pro-Spanish unity supporters marched through the streets of Barcelona yesterday, exactly a week after voters in a banned referendum in Catalonia voted overwhelmingly in favour of breaking away from Spain.

The massive pro-Spain march, which passed off without incident, ran under the slogan "For the restoration of seny" - the Catalan word for common sense or folk wisdom.

The organisers of the event, the pro-unity association, the Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), later claimed nearly a million pro-unity supporters had turned out. That figure was disputed by the local police force which estimated there were still very significant 350,000 demonstrators.

While Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy did not attend but expressed his support in a tweet, a number of heavyweights from the ruling Partido Popular, including the president of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes, took part.

Also present was Albert Rivera, leader of Spain's fourth largest party, Ciudadanos, and the Nobel-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa.

In a reflection of the divisions within the pro-unity camp, though, only a few high-ranking members of Spain's leading opposition party, the Socialists, participated, the most prominent being Josep Borrell, a former president of the EU. As for Spain's hard-left Podemos party, its leader Pablo Iglesias was roundly booed by some 50 pro-unity demonstrators when he was spotted at Barcelona Sants railway station early yesterday morning - catching a train for Madrid.

In a manifesto read at the end of the demonstration, there were demands that non-nationalist Catalans "should not be marginalised" and Mr Vargas Llosa launched a stinging attack on the nationalists, accusing their leaders, amongst them regional premier Carles Puigdemont, of being golpistas - conspirators in a coup d'etat. "The nationalist plot will not destroy 500 years of Spanish unity," he insisted.

The march came just two days before Mr Puigdemont is expected to make a key address to the Catalan parliament, which opposition sources have reportedly claimed will see him make a unilateral declaration of independence.

"He should not do such a senseless, provocative thing," Jose Domingo, vice-president of the SCC, said during the rally. Mr Domingo's comments echoed Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy's words on Sunday when he hinted strongly in an interview he was considering using Article 155 of the constitution, which allows for direct intervention from Madrid, should an independence bid happen.

Speaking to El País, in his first in-depth newspaper interview since last Sunday's banned referendum sparked Spain's worst political crisis in 40 years, Mr Rajoy said: "(Catalan) independence is not going to happen."

Asked specifically about article 155, he said: "I am not ruling out anything that the law says. Ideally, we should not have to resort to drastic solutions, but in that case there would have to be rectifications." Mr Rajoy also promised that both the Civil Guard and the Spanish national police would remain in Catalonia "until things return to normal."

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