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Unity rallies swell amid uncertainty over Catalan vote

Unity rallies swell amid uncertainty over Catalan vote
From Al Jazeera - October 12, 2017

Barcelona, Spain Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona on Thursday to celebrate and show support for a united Spain during the country's national day.

The rally comes at a tense time in the relationship between Madrid and the Catalan regional government, which has soured since the disputed October 1 independence referendum and subsequent fallout.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared independence for eight seconds Tuesday night before suspending the declaration in favour of talks with the Spanish government.

Maria Garcia Anton, a 23-year-old student who attended the rally, told Al Jazeera: "Spain is one country and Catalonia is a part of it. The problems can be solved, but our country should remain intact."

Some are questioning the Spanish government's methods to keep the country together.

The Civil Guard, a military force charged with police duties, used "excessive force" to stop Catalans from voting on independence from Spain in the October 1 referendum,accordingto rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Images and videos showing assaults on peaceful protesters and voters young and old went viral. However, the military police force was popular with demonstrators.

They chanted "Long live the Civil Guard", among other pro-union slogans.

"It was justified," Garcia said as she marched. "The court ruled the referendum was illegal and the Civil Guard did what was necessary."

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The Spanish High Court decided that the referendum contravened the nation's constitution and ordered police to stop it from occurring, while simultaneously requiring law enforcement to respect coexistence between citizens.

By the end of the day, almost 900 people had been injured by the authorities, according to anestimatefrom the Catalan Department of Health. The Spanish governmentinsiststhat police acted lawfully and respectfully.

"The police may well have had the law on their side to enforce a court order but it did not give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters," Kartik Raj, HRW's Western Europe researcher, said in a press release.

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