The demonstrations in the Spanish capital and the Catalan city of Barcelona were held simultaneously under the slogan “Shall We Talk?” in an effort to push politicians in both cities to end months of silence and start negotiating.
The crowd wore white T-shirts and respected calls to bring neither Spanish nor Catalan flags.
Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has vowed that he will make good on the results of last Sunday’s disputed referendum on secession, which was won by the Yes side.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, warned that the vote was illegal and has promised that Catalonia is going nowhere.
Protesters packed Barcelona’s Sant Jaume Square where the Catalan government has its presidential palace, shouting “We want to talk” and holding signs saying “More Negotiation, Less Testosterone” and “Talk or Resign”.
The gathering around Madrid’s Cibeles fountain saw a huge banner demanding that the respective leaders start talking. Some people chanted “Less hate, and more understanding” and “Carles, Mariano, let’s see if you can call each other”.
In Madrid’s Colon Square, thousands clamoured for the unity of Spain and against any attempt by the northeastern region of Catalonia to break away. The crowd bristled with Spanish flags, and some people danced in a fountain in the square.
Tensions almost boiled over when a small group of people waving Spanish flags, apparently from the pro-union rally, began shouting at people at the pro-dialogue rally. Police quickly moved in to separate the two groups.
The calls for dialogue and unity come after a traumatic week in Spain, which reached its peak last Sunday during Catalonia’s referendum. Riot police stormed several polling stations in an unsuccessful attempt to impede the vote. Instead, they left hundreds of voters in need of medical attention.
Even though 2.2 million Catalan voted– with 90 per cent opting for independence – fewer than half of the region’s electorate took part. Puigdemont declared he would seek a declaration of independence in the regional parliament anyway.
The referendum was followed by a strike on Tuesday across Catalonia to protest against the police violence.
Then came the stern message from Spanish King Felipe VI that the Catalan government and parliament were breaking the law.
Puigdemont and his supporters were struck a blow when Catalonia’s top two banks, Caixabank and Banco Sabadell, as well as energy company Gas Natural, announced that they were relocating their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain. Other companies are also considering such a move to ensure that the possible secession would not immediately knock them out of the European Union and its common market.
The warnings sent by the business sector have coincided with the first calls from within Puigdemont’s government to hold off on a declaration of independence.