Over 45 000 protesters gathered today in Brussels to show support for deposed Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and to urge the EU to support their drive for independence from Spain.
Many of those demonstrating are members of the Catalan branch of the ICEC, a group based in Brussels that lobbies the EU to recognise European regions’ demands for self-determination.
Chanting “Wake up Europe!” and waving Catalonia’s famous red, yellow and blue Estelada separatist flag, crowds marched from Montgomery to Cinquantenaire, where they held an open-air rally.
They then assembled near the commission headquarters before a march through the Belgian capital. Some members will later attend a conference with Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker.
The Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers fled to Brussels in November, saying they wanted to take their cause to a European level after Spain charged them with sedition and rebellion over Catalonia’s independence referendum in October.
Speaking just ahead of the demo, he said, “For the moment we will stay here.”
Madrid dropped a European arrest warrant for the five on Monday but Puigdemont said he would stay put for now as they still face arrest in Spain if they return for snap regional polls in Catalonia on December 21.
Jorge Santos, 35, who was among the protestors, told this website, “We cannot abandon our president, who is in exile here. We have come to the heart of the EU to show that we intend to continue the struggle for our independence and to ask for the freedom of our political prisoners.”
Further comment came from Bernard Daelemans of ICEC who said, “They want respect for democracy, to address the hypocrisy of the unelected men in Brussels, to demand the release of their political prisoners and to show that Catalonia can save the EU – not the other way around.”
The ICEC was founded in Catalonia in 2009 and grew to represent several nationalist movements, including from Scotland, the Basque Country and Flanders.
Belgian police were on hand but the early stages of the protest were peaceful.
Traffic chaos due to the Catalan manif in Brussels.
Publié par Brussels Express sur jeudi 7 décembre 2017
Puigdemont, who is the exiled former president of Catalonia, refused to return to Spain to face criminal charges unless he received government guarantees that the results of elections called by Madrid to wrest back control of the region would be respected.