More than 1 million flag-draped and face-painted Catalans held hands and formed a 250-mile human chain across the northeastern Spanish region Wednesday in a demonstration of their desires for independence.
It was the second Catalonian National Day in as many years marked by a massive turnout to show support for breaking free of recession-beset Spain and its proliferation of internal disputes, corruption scandals and debt woes.
Secession proponents and the regional government said more than 1 million supporters of independence joined in the chain of humanity bedecked in clothing and face paint in the red, yellow and blue of Catalonia's flag. The hand-holding lineup stretched from Barcelona's main square, through its Sagrada Familia cathedral, the Camp Nou Stadium soccer venue of FC Barcelona and along streets and highways stretching for a reported 250 miles.
Catalonia, population 7.5 million, is one of Spain's wealthiest regions. The independence drive being spearheaded by regional leader Artur Mas is fueled by resentment of a $20-billion annual imbalance between the tax revenues collected in Catalonia and the government services and benefits it gets in return.
Mas has threatened to hold a referendum next year on Catalonia's status within the Spanish kingdom, although Spain's Constitution doesn't empower the regions to call votes on sovereignty or national security issues. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos have urged Catalans to refrain from rekindling the nationalist sentiments that threw Spain into civil war in the 1930s and dictatorship that endured until the 1975 death of Gen. Francisco Franco.
Much of the emotion and fervor of the National Day events of late are thought to be the regional leadership's attempt to put pressure on Madrid to cede more autonomy to Catalonia and grant it more control over its finances.
A poll carried out for Cadena Ser radio network and reported on the English website of Spanish daily El Pais revealed 52% support for independence among Catalans surveyed. The poll also showed that 80% of those asked supported the idea of holding an independence referendum, regardless of where they stood on secession.
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