By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Hundreds of thousands of protestors poured onto the streets of Barcelona Wednesday evening to renew their calls for Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
According to the Barcelona police, around 600,000 protestors turned up.
The rally coincides with La Diada, a regional holiday that commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the Spanish War of Succession on September 11, 1714. Since 2012, the event has been used as a show-of-force of by pro-independence activists.
Turnout this year, although large, has dropped to its lowest number since 2011. In 2017 and 2018, Barcelona police estimated that 1 million people took to the streets, while in 2014 — the year of the largest rally — the police estimated that 1.8 million protestors showed up.
This year’s Diada comes just weeks before Spanish judges will hand out sentences to 12 Catalan leaders who were involved in an illegal referendum and a failed independence attempt in 2017.
Nine key pro-independence politicians and activists are awaiting the verdict in prisons, while others, including the former premier Carles Puigdemont, have fled the country and are unable to return without risking arrest.
Some leaders are facing charges as serious as rebellion and prosecutors are seeking jail sentences of between seven and 25 years.
"If we still aren’t free, it’s because we still haven’t finished our journey… separatism hasn’t been defeated," said Quim Torra, the current president of Catalonia, in his official speech to open La Diada. He also advocated for Catalonia to exercise its right to self-determination.
While separatism is still a major political force in Catalonia, polls suggest it’s reached a two-year low. In the last major survey of Catalan public opinion in July, 44% of respondents said they support Catalan independence, while 48% said they would prefer to remain in Spain.