BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Catalans gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of an independence referendum that marked the high point of their movement to secede from the rest of Spain.
The 2017 vote, which was declared unconstitutional by Spain’s top courts, was marred by clashes with police who tried to confiscate ballot boxes but mostly failed. The pro-independence side won by a landslide, but most Catalans in favor of staying in Spain stayed home while pro-union political parties boycotted the vote. Polls then and now show that the wealthy Northeast is evenly divided on the question of secession.
Catalonia’s separatist legislators used the referendum to justify a unilateral declaration of independence issued on October 27, 2017 that did not garner any international support and had no practical impact. The Spanish government immediately took over the regional government and fired its top officials. The separatist leaders either fled Spain or were tried and sentenced to prison for sedition until they were pardoned last year.
Since the referendum victory, the separatist movement has been rudderless and increasingly fraught with infighting over what to do next. The disputes between the two main separatist parties have reached the point that one threatens to leave the regional government led by Pere Aragonès, who is in favor of continuing talks with Madrid.
The divisions in the separatist camp were heard on Saturday when part of the crowd shouted “Aragonès, resign!” Hardline separatists see Aragonès’s plan to ask Spain to hold an authorized referendum as an abandonment of the legacy of the 2017 election.
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