Thousands Rally in Barcelona Demanding Release of Detained Politicians

Pro-independence supporters attend a demonstration in Barcelona Spain

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have taken to the streets of Barcelona to call for the return of the 16 Catalan leaders who are in prison or have fled the country in the aftermath of last October's unilateral independence referendum.

At the cry of 'Freedom for political prisoners, ' one of the most said slogans by the participants, the march was seconded by representatives of Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana, the two largest groups in favor of the rupture with Spain.

Spanish authorities quickly moved to crush the revived secessionist movement by arresting several Catalonian politicians on charges of rebellion and sedition.

The demonstration was organised by two grassroots independence groups, the ANC and Omnium, whose presidents are among the nine separatist leaders in prison awaiting trial over their role in last year's failed breakaway bid by Catalonia.

Organisers of the demonstration which include the two main Catalan independence parties as well as regional branches of two major Trade Unions believe that some 750,000 people attended the rally and once again the streets of the city were awash with yellow and red as well as Catalan flags.

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The latest opinion poll published by the Catalan government in February said that support for independence had decreased to 40 per cent from near 49 per cent in October.

The Catalan sections of CC.OO. and UGT defended their attendance to the mobilization, after considering that the serious dispute in the rich autonomous community of 7.5 million inhabitants must be resolved through dialogue and politics and not in the courts.

The secession movement in the wealthy region has plunged Spain into its deepest institutional crisis in decades.

Puigdemont is also accused of misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1 even though the courts had ruled it unconstitutional.

He was elected as a lawmaker in snap polls in Catalonia in December and has twice been proposed as a candidate to lead a new Catalan regional government, but a judge refused both times to allow him to leave jail to be sworn in. "The interpretation of the references to "Catalonia as a nation" and to "the national reality of Catalonia" in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect", the constitutional court had decreed.

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