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Catalan leader says vast rally shows desire for 'freedom'

  • Catalan Regional President Artur Mas holds a Catalan flag during a ceremony at the regional parliament marking the Catalan National Day in Barcelona September 11, 2012. (REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino)

BARCELONA: A rally of more than a million Catalans calling for independence from the rest of Spain showed their desire for "freedom", the region's leader said Wednesday.

Police estimated 1.5 million people swamped Barcelona on Tuesday evening to call for nationhood and control over their own economy on northeastern Catalonia's national day, the Diada.

No incidents were reported.

Catalonia's regional government president Artur Mas said the peaceful demonstration reflected "the best of Catalonia."

It sent a "very powerful message of a desire for freedom and wanting to be a normal people among the countries and nations of the world," he said in a news conference.

Fiercely proud of their distinct language and culture, Catalans increasingly feel they are getting a raw deal from Madrid and Mas is now demanding the right for Catalans to raise and spend their own taxes.

The Catalan leader is to discuss the so-called fiscal pact with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on September 20.

Catalonia, whose economy is bigger than Portugal's, accounts for a fifth of Spanish output.

But it is being squeezed by austerity cuts and by an economic crisis that has put one in four people out of work across the country.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said there were other priorities.

"I think we have to look at things with a cool head," she told journalists in the corridors of parliament in Madrid.

"In these difficult times there are many people living in a very tough situation and what we have to analyze is what are the priorities. It is up the governments to decide very carefully what are those priorities. I don't think we can make a mistake in a country with five million unemployed."

 
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