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Catalans form chain in Spain

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

BARCELONA — More than 1 million people showed their support for Catalan independence on Wednesday by joining hands to form a 250-mile human chain across the northeastern region of Spain.

The demonstration on the region's annual public holiday aimed to illustrate the strength of local backing for political efforts to break away from Spain. The Catalan regional government estimated 1.6 million people in the region of 7.5 million residents took part in the human chain, many of them with red, yellow and blue pro-independence flags draped around their shoulders.

“Today is a historic day. The Catalan people have reaffirmed their determination to be a free state,” said Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan National Assembly, which organized the event.

The protest in Catalonia was peaceful, but a small group of Spanish fascists in Madrid stormed their way into the office of the Catalan government's delegation building in the capital.

Television images showed about 10 men with Spanish fascist flags shouting, pushing people, knocking over furniture and hitting a journalist's TV camera. They yelled “Catalonia is Spain!” and quickly left, but reportedly opened a tear gas container, forcing the 100 or so people gathered there to evacuate.

During Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship from 1939-1975, the Catalan language was banned in schools, publishing and from public use.

Despite sharing many cultural traits with the rest of Spain, many Catalans claim a deep cultural difference based on their language, which is spoken side-by-side with Spanish in the wealthy region.

Catalonia's regional leader Artur Mas has promised to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, but the Madrid-based government has said that such a vote would be unconstitutional.

Polls indicate that the majority of Catalans agree on holding a referendum, though surveys indicate support among residents for independence is around 50 percent.

The Spanish government's refusal to grant Catalonia similar fiscal powers held by the Basque Country — the other region with a strong separatist movement — combined with the country's double-dip recession have swelled the pro-independence ranks in recent years.

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