Catalan separatists rally in France with fugitive ex-leader

Thousands of people who want the Catalonia region to become independent from Spain are attending a major rally in southeastern France

Tens of thousands of people who want the Catalonia region to become independent from Spain on Saturday held a major rally across the border, in southeastern France.

Catalan separatists are keen to draw international attention to their fight, and the rally in Perpignan aimed to be a show of strength. The rally’s slogan was, “The republic at the center of the world” — a reference to the desired Catalan republic.

Perpignan lies about 200 kilometers (120 miles) by road from the Catalan capital, Barcelona. Holding the event in French territory allowed former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont to attend, too. The European Parliament member is a fugitive from Spain after declaring Catalan independence in 2017.

Puigdemont’s political alliance, Together for Catalonia, will be competing for votes with other separatist parties in an upcoming regional election in Catalonia. No date has been set for the ballot.

“Attaining independence hasn’t been easy, and we knew it wouldn’t be,” Puigdemont told the crowd, many of them waving red-yellow-and-blue pro-secession flags. “We know that we won’t give up and that they won’t stop us.”

He ended his speech: “Catalans, get ready. Long live Catalonia!”

The current Catalan president, Quim Torra, and other senior figures in the independence movement joined the event.

Organizers hoped to draw some 70,000 people. Hundreds of buses set out from Catalonia for the rally.

Spain’s constitution states that the country is indivisible, and the national government in Madrid has refused to countenance independence for Catalonia. Like other Spanish regions, Catalonia already has a large degree of financial, administrative and legislative autonomy.

Polls show residents in the Spanish region of 7.5 million people are roughly evenly divided over the question of independence.