Divided Catalan separatists rally ahead of talks with Madrid

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In their first major mass gathering since the start of the pandemic, thousands of Catalan separatists took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday ahead of upcoming talks with the Spanish government.

Protesters waved pro-independence flags and wore T-shirts with messages for their cause in downtown Barcelona. People used face masks for the event, which went ahead after regional authorities dropped restrictions on the number of people who could gather with declining COVID-19 cases.

The meeting between representatives of the Catalan and central governments doesn’t have a date yet, but it is supposed to be soon.

This second meeting between the two sides is supposed to advance negotiations toward the eventual finding of a solution to the political crisis that has festered since the failed 2017 bid by Catalan’s secessionists to force a breakaway.

Expectations remain extremely low for a quick fix because the Catalan separatists demand an authorised referendum on independence. The central government says a vote would have to be on a proposal to improve the relationship of the northeast region with the rest of Spain.

Divisions within the separatist camp on the usefulness of the negotiations marked Saturday’s rally. The leading pro-secession party backs the talks as the best way forward, but the two other main parties in the separatists camp believe that only another unilateral push will achieve their dream of carving out a new state.

Catalonia’s voters have for several years been roughly equally divided over the secession question, with half in favour and half wanting to remain in Spain.

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The rally marked Catalonia’s national day, or “Diada”, which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region’s subsequent loss of institutions.

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