3 weeks ahead of Spain referendum, huge rally gather for Catalan independence

3 weeks ahead of Spain referendum, huge rally gather for Catalan independence

The annual demonstration came in the run-up to a referendum planned on 1 October by the Catalan government, but banned by Spain. Organisers said 450,000 people had registered for the event, and Barcelona police later tweeted that 1 million turned up.

Spain's King Felipe VI has commented for the first time on the political crisis triggered by Catalonia's plan to hold a referendum on the region's independence, saying people must respect the country's constitution, which forbids secession.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who faces criminal charges for his role in organizing the referendum, only has the power to call an election not a referendum, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

For the sixth successive year, Catalonia's national day - La Diada de Catalunya - was used as a political rally by the pro-independence movement. However, a majority of Catalans want to vote on the issue.

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If the "Yes" side wins, Catalonia's regional government has vowed to declare independence within 48 hours and set about building a sovereign state. Polls suggest that the attitude of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is bolstering the nationalist cause.

The Madrid-based court preventatively suspended a second law relating to Catalonian independence on Tuesday, news agencies quoting unnamed Spanish court sources reported, adding another legal hurdle for separatists. A survey at the end of July found that 49.4% of Catalans were against independence and 41.1% supported it.

Like the referendum held in Britain previous year on the country's membership in the European Union, the issue in Catalonia pits rural areas - which are more pro-independence - against large urban centres like Barcelona that are more in favour of remaining in Spain.

But Spain's economic problems, coupled with a perception that the wealthy northeastern region's 7.5 million people pay more in taxes to Madrid than they get in return, have pushed the independence question to the centre stage.

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