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Rally in Barcelona to demand the release of jailed separatist leaders

Rally in Barcelona to demand the release of jailed separatist leaders

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.

The rally, which according to a police estimate drew 315,000 people, came six months after voters in Catalonia backed secession from Spain in a referendum that Madrid refused to recognize.

The demonstration was organized by two pro-independence groups, the National Catalan Assembly and Omnium Cultural.

While conceding that the arrests of prominent Catalan leaders on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds had left the independence movement "decapitated", he said the setback was only temporary.

"There have been tensions (among unions members) just like in the rest of the Catalan society", the secretary general of the Catalan branch of UGT, Camil Ros, told AFP.

"But it is not a separatist protest".

Some other activists were forced to leave the country, while Madrid is also pushing for the extradition of the former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, from Germany.

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A German court ruled that he could not be extradited to Spain on rebellion charges but is still considering an extradition on charges of corruption.

Puigdemont is also accused of misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1 despite it having been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

"I took part in all the protests and I never saw an ounce of violence except for that by police when they repressed the referendum", said Juan Jose Cabrero, a 74-yar-old pensioner at the protest.

Hundreds of buses brought protesters from across the wealthy northeastern region of Spain to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, for the march.

Around 350,000 demonstrators clogged several main city arteries waving flags and wearing yellow in support of separatist leaders jailed for their role in the region's banned drive to split from Spain a year ago.

However, Spanish authorities declared the plebiscite illegal and launched a crackdown on the pro-independence movement. The poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

If a new leader in Catalonia is not elected by May 22, new regional elections will be held.

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