Catalan separatists have taken to the streets of Barcelona in the first of a series of mass mobilisations demanding independence from Spain and the release of several high-profile secessionists from jail.
The traditional September 11 march marking the Diada, when the Catalan capital fell during the Spanish War of Succession in 1714, has drawn hundreds of thousands of secession supporters in recent years.
It comes nearly a year after an illegal referendum on secession held by Catalan authorities led to an ineffective independence declaration that received no international recognition.
Quim Torra, the Catalan regional president, said that while maintaining his pledge to see through the breakaway bid, his immediate focus was on putting pressure on the courts ahead of the trials of the movement’s jailed leaders.
His goal is to whip up support for public showings of strength on October 1, the anniversary of the referendum that was met by a police crackdown, the failed declaration of independence on October 27, and the imminent start of the trials.
“If the prisoners are not absolved, my government and the Catalan parliament will take necessary action.”
He said he would not go as far as throwing open the cells of the secessionists, who are being held in Catalan prisons run by his administration.
“We have come here today to demand once again freedom for Catalonia,” said 57-year-old Lourdes Casajus, who came from her home in the Catalan heartland to join the separatist rally.
“Last October 1 we voted in a referendum and the majority for independence wasn’t respected. This September 11 we demand that all the politicians, both from there and ours here, respect the people’s will.”
Mr Torra, who rose to power after secessionist parties won a regional election, has met Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and is planning a second meeting, in what is considered a thawing of relations between Madrid and Barcelona.
He wants Spain’s new centre-left national government to agree to a binding independence referendum, while Mr Sanchez will only offer a vote on increasing Catalonia’s already considerable degree of self-rule.
Polls and official election results indicate that roughly half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents are against severing century-old ties with the rest of Spain.