High security and a festive air as Catalans digest ‘independence declaration’

‘We’ve wanted this for a long time ... we’ve got our hopes up’

Normally a picturesque hub for tourists and joggers, Barcelona's Ciutadella Park, where the Catalan parliament is located, was empty yesterday morning. Police had evacuated and padlocked it as a security measure ahead of the widely anticipated parliamentary appearance by regional president Carles Puigdemont.

Early on, the empty park and heavy Catalan police presence outside it, to prevent unrest during or after Puigdemont’s appearance, were the only signs that this was an unusual day.

Some Catalans were particularly intent on ignoring the developments scheduled for later on in the parliament.

“It’s a completely normal day, it doesn’t have any political or special dimension to it,” said Jordi Rueda, a young civil servant, as he crossed the road nearby.

Although Rueda wanted independence, he didn’t like the way the Catalan government had gone about pursuing that objective.  “Yes to independence, but legally,” he said.

Much of central Barcelona is a haven for shopping and sightseeing and therefore a magnet for tourists. But at the Arc de Triomf arch, near Ciutadella, many of those visiting had heard about Spain’s Catalan crisis. Skateboarder Taylor James, from the United States, said he knew little about the situation, but realised it was a significant day for many Catalans and Spaniards.

“This is more important than NFL players taking a knee,” he said.

“I guess it’s important for both people’s voices to be heard and I hope there’s a compromise.”

In the afternoon, those with more passionate views started to gather on the promenade next to the Arc de Triomf, as police helicopters flew overhead.

Albert Manuel, a student, was wrapped in the estelada, the red-and-yellow-striped flag with a star that symbolises Catalan independence. He also wore a burger king cardboard crown on which he had written “republic”.

"We've wanted this for a long time," he said of separation from Spain. "We've got our hopes up."

Manuel was one of thousands of activists who heeded the call of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civic organisation that campaigns for independence, to take to the streets near the parliament building.

As demonstrators arrived, so too did agricultural workers, driving tractors from different parts of the region with independence flags flapping from their vehicles.

A giant screen was set up on the street to broadcast Puigdemont’s address live and those gathered cheered as he made his declaration of independence, although he then called for it to be suspended pending mediation.

A few hundred yards away, at the parliament, the Spanish flag still hung alongside that of Catalonia, for the time being at least.

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