Pro-independence Catalans are commemorating the first anniversary of a banned referendum which saw the support for an independent Catalonia on Oct. 1, 2017 and witnessed a brutal crackdown by the Spanish police which left 900 people injured.
Monday's protests were called for on online messaging apps by the Committees for the Defense of the Republic — local activist groups that emerged after the referendum in 2017.
Thousands of Catalans rallied to the call and blocked roads, motorways, and a high-speed rail line in Girona, north of Barcelona at 10:00 am local time. The AP-7 highway, the main artery along eastern Catalonia leading to the French border, and streets in the center the cities of Lleida and Barcelona, have been blocked.
Catalonia’s nationalist President Quim Torra made a symbolic visit to a polling station in Sant Julia de Ramis where Spanish police prevented his predecessor Carlos Puingdemont from voting in the referendum.
Torra told the protesters to keep up the pressure. “Everything began on 1 October and everything goes back to 1 October,” he said. “The lesson of 1 October and its values are what we need as we face the coming weeks and months.”
In a video message released Monday, Puigdemont said: “Let us not stray from the only possible way to live in a full democracy: the [Catalan] republic and its international recognition.”
On Sunday, 14 people were injured and six arrested after police clashed with pro-independence Catalans in downtown Barcelona. At least one regional police officer was also injured in the riot, according to Catalan authorities.
Nine pro-independence Catalan leaders and civil society leaders were imprisoned after last year's referendum. Madrid charged Catalan leaders with rebellion and sedition for their “secessionist” efforts.
The new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is more conciliatory than his conservative predecessor but he maintains that releasing the political prisoners is a judicial matter which he has no control over.
Spain's 1978 constitution says the country is "indivisible". But Torra has vowed to push for a pro-independence agenda and recognize the dream of a free Catalonia.