Hundreds of thousands of supporters of an independent Catalan state have held hands in a 400km human chain across the region to press the Madrid government to let them form their own country.
Demonstrators in yellow T-shirts and draped in blue, red and yellow separatist banners raised joined hands through cities and along rural roads, jumping and shouting in celebration when the chain was completed on Wednesday.
“Today is a historic day.The Catalan people have reaffirmed their determination to be a free state,” said Carme Forcadell, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, which organised the human chain.
The human chain was planned on a traditional regional holiday. Last year, more than one million people rallied in Barcelona, the largest show of separatist sentiment since the 1970s.
The chain, named the Catalan Way, linked 86 towns and villages along the coast to push for a referendum on political self-determination for Catalonia.
Artur Mas, Catalonia’s regional leader, has promised to hold an independence referendum in 2014, but has been unable to get the Spanish government’s approval.
Catalonia is a wealthy industrial region in northeastern Spain that accounts for a fifth of the country’s economic output.
|Map showing route of the Catalan Way human chain|
Al Jazeera’s Emma Hayward, reporting from Barcelona on Wednesday, said Spain’s regions all had some degree of autonomy, but people in Catalonia felt it was not enough.
“The is a real buzz in the city today,” she said.
“Catalonia has always been one of the economic powerhouses of Spain, even since the recession, and people here say they have been putting a lot in and getting very little in return.
“But this is about more than economics. They feel their culture is very distinct from Spain’s and they want independence.”
A deep recession and cuts in public spending in Catalonia have stirred discontent with the central government.
Polls show backing for secession has risen steadily in Catalonia, with some registering support as high as 50 percent.
Al Jazeera’s Hayward said that in a survey, eight out of 10 people said they would like to go to the polls to have their say on the situation.
“This is about people wanting to have a referendum to decide their own future in Europe,” she said.