BARCELONA : Tens of thousands of people marched in Barcelona on Sunday to protest the  separatist movement in the north-eastern Catalonia region that has created Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Barcelona police said 80,000 people rallied, with many carrying Spanish and Catalan flags.

One poster read in English : ''We are Catalonians too, stop this madness!!''

The rally in favor of Spanish unity comes after several years protests some of which spiraled into into violent clashes with police by Catalan separatists.

They are angered by a Supreme Court ruling that gave nine separatist leaders lengthy prison sentences for an illegal and unsuccessful 2017 accession attempt.

While separatists have organised huge marches in recent years as their drive gained steam, Catalans in favor of maintaining century old ties with the rest of Spain have largely remained quiet except for an enormous rally two years ago during the tensest moments of the separatists' secession bid.

''We feel the need to shout that Catalonia is part of Spain.'' said  52-year-old truck driver Francisco Astorga Vasco.
''They are trying to make it look like Catalonia is not Spain, and that is not true. Not in the past, not in the present, and not in the plans we have for our future.''

Polls and election results in recent years say the 7.5 million residents of the wealthy Catalonia region are roughly evenly divided on the secession question.

Unionists say the separatist cause has monopolised local politics and caused friction between families and friends.

On Saturday, a rally of 350,000 separatists in Barcelona was followed by a clash between police and radical protesters that left 44 people injured, according to regional health authorities.

Over 500 people have been hurt, nearly half of them police officers in clashes since the Oct 14 Supreme Court verdict.

The Catalan crisis is set to be a key issue in Spain's Nov 10 national election, where socialist prime minister Pedro Snchez will try to stay in power. [AP]


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