TENS of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona yesterday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Catalan independence referendum.

The Arc de Triomf was packed to the brim as independence supporters heard speeches condemning the Spanish state’s repression of the Catalan movement in wake of the 2017 referendum and demanding the right to self-determination for Catalonia.

The anniversary mobilisation came amidst the backdrop of the near collapse of the Catalan government as tension between the two coalition partners, ERC and JxCAT, reached breaking point last week.

The National:

The Catalan president, ERC leader Pere Aragones, sacked his vice-president, JxCAT’s Jordi Puignero, in response to the “disloyalty” of his party joining CUP, a smaller pro-independence party in the parliament, in calling for a confidence vote in the president. The shock firing has led JxCAT to reconsider its position in the government, giving Aragones a set of demands to stay within the coalition, which, according to analysts, are highly unlikely to be met.

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Aragones, who did not address the demonstration, had on Tuesday proposed a “clarity agreement” with the Spanish state to set the basis upon which Catalans could decide on independence, a proposal which was immediately rejected by the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, while being perceived by JxCAT to be a breach of the coalition government agreement.

Tensions have been growing for years between the pro-independence parties, and with the wider independence movement, over whether the government has pursued independence with sufficient vigour. ERC say an agreed referendum with Madrid is the only way forward and have established a “dialogue table” with the Spanish government to seek to find a solution, but Sanchez has said he will “never” agree to a binding independence referendum and the negotiation talks have so far led to few successes.

The National:

The political tensions of the past week were evident at the anniversary demonstrations. Jordi Gaseni, president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), was greeted with boos and whistles by some protesters after calling for government unity.

Earlier in the day a “march of the ballot boxes” organised by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) included official placards telling the Catalan government to “act or resign”, while messages on homemade placards included “Aragones, we didn’t vote for you to make a table of surrender” and “Underpinning the enemy’s governance – it’s pure cowardice”.

The National:

Addressing the crisis in the Catalan government, Xavier Antich, president of Omnium Cultural, the cultural organisation of the independence movement, told the evening rally: “We run the risk of losing our strength. If we don’t go together, if we don’t generate enthusiasm, we won’t move forward. It’s urgent to get out of this phase of paralysis. We have to talk and decide how to move forward towards independence”

The rally was headlined via video link by Carles Puigdemont, who was president during the 2017 referendum and remains in exile in Belgium.

The National:

Puigdemont told the demonstrators: “We need a democratic overflow that started five years ago. This is the key to our victory, which the Spanish state will not be able to defeat.”

He called for all the independence parties and organisations to keep talking with one another, adding: “What we have to do is stay united and be ready to resume the march where we left off.

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“Today we know how to win and we need to make it possible.”

THE 2017 “wildcat” referendum was organised by the Catalan government after the parliament voted in favour of it, despite Madrid saying they would block it. from happening.

On the day of the vote, there as an international outcry due to the violence of Spanish police seeking to prevent Catalans from voting and seizing ballot boxes at polling stations. Nonetheless, more than two million Catalans voted, with more than 90% of those voting Yes.

The Catalan Parliament voted to declare Catalonia an independent state on October 27, which immediately led the Spanish state to initiate Article 155 of the Spanish constitution which permitted the government to shutdown Catalan Parliament and re-centralise control over Catalonia.