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Thousands of Catalan Separatist Supporters Protest in Madrid


Catalan pro-independence demonstrators hold separatist flags in Madrid, Spain, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators made their way to Spain's capital to show support for former regional politicians whom they consider to be political prisoners.

Thousands of supporters of Catalan independence marched through central Madrid on Saturday to protest the trial of 12 separatist leaders who face years in prison for their role in organizing a failed independence bid from Spain in 2017.

Demonstrators, many who made the journey from the northwestern Catalonia region for the protest, waved Catalan flags and carried signs reading "Self-determination is not a crime."

Protest organizers put the turnout at 120,000 while police gave a figure of 18,000.

Catalan pro-independence demonstrators rally in Madrid, Spain, March 16, 2019.
Catalan pro-independence demonstrators rally in Madrid, Spain, March 16, 2019.

Tensions between Madrid and Barcelona have thawed since the political crisis triggered by Catalonia's independence declaration in late 2017, but the trial of 12 separatist leaders for their role in the secession bid and events leading up to it has been one of several sticking points to derail negotiations.

The 12 are on trial in Madrid on charges ranging from rebellion to misuse of funds, which they deny.

The Catalan crisis is set to play a major role in April 28 elections, with three right-leaning parties — the conservative People's Party (PP), the center-right Ciudadanos and the relatively new far-right Vox party — calling for Spain to take a tougher position with separatists.

Polls show the support of Catalan parties may prove decisive if Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is to form a government after the vote. Most polls indicate Sanchez's Socialists winning the most seats but falling short of a parliamentary majority.

Sanchez came to power by winning a confidence motion last year with the support of Catalan separatist parties but was unable to secure their backing for his budget, effectively dooming the project and leading him to call an early election.

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