Thousands of Catalans have gathered in Barcelona to commemorate the fifth anniversary of an independence referendum that marked the high point of their movement to break away from the rest of Spain.
The 2017 vote, which was declared unconstitutional by Spain’s top courts, was marred by clashes with police who tried, but mostly failed, to confiscate ballot boxes.
The pro-independence side won by a landslide, but most Catalans in favour of remaining in Spain stayed home as pro-union political parties boycotted the vote.
Polls then and now show that the wealthy north-east region is roughly equally divided over the secession question.
Catalonia’s separatist legislators used the referendum vote to justify a unilateral declaration of independence issued on October 27 2017 that failed to garner any international support and had no practical impact.
Spain’s government immediately took over the regional government and sacked its top officials. The separatist leaders either fled Spain or were tried and sentenced to prison for sedition until they were pardoned last year.
Since the referendum victory, the separatist movement has been rudderless and increasingly fraught with in-fighting over what to do next.
Bickering between the two main separatist parties has reached the point where one is threatening to leave the regional government led by Pere Aragones, who favours ongoing talks with Spain’s central government in Madrid.
Divisions in the separatist camp were heard during the rally on Saturday when part of the crowd chanted: “Aragones, resign!”
Hardline separatists consider Mr Aragones’ plan to ask Spain to hold an authorised referendum as forsaking the legacy of the 2017 ballot.