(ABC News) — More than 15,000 people poured into the streets of Barcelona today, according to local authorities, to protest the use of force by Spanish police that left more than 900 people injured during Sunday’s independence referendum in the region of Catalonia, in northern Spain.
After weeks of intense efforts to mobilize people ahead of the vote, Catalans’ focus has turned to acting on its results –- overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Spain, according to preliminary numbers.
Today’s general strike was called by major unions, including the famous FC Barcelona soccer team, although two national unions refused to call on their members in Catalonia to join it.
Fifty roads in the region were blocked, regional authorities told ABC News, and most schools and small businesses did not open.
Protesters in the streets of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, chanted phrases that translate to “independence,” “fascism is not back” and “Spanish occupiers,” with a certain nervous excitement about how the independence referendum would be implemented concretely.
“I am here because I want Madrid to hear we are not tired and we will not accept to repeat the history of fascism,” Francesca Carbonell, a 30-year-old waitress in Barcelona, told ABC News. Carbonell walked two hours to join protesters in Barcelona’s University Square as public transportation was shut down and taxi service was extremely limited.
“Catalans have always been pacifists and will always be,” she said, “but we are standing up!”
During an exclusive visit today to Catalonia’s presidential palace, which dates to the 14th century, Catalan leaders met in a chapel without their cellphones, likely out of fear their phones were tapped by Spanish authorities. They were discussing the “conspiracy,” the director of communications for the Catalonia government told ABC News.
“By Monday, we will either be in jail or free,” one minister, who requested his name not be used, added.
Catalonia’s president, top regional leaders and more than 700 mayors in the region face charges of disobedience, secrecy, misuse of public funds, corruption and sedition, which could carry sentences of up to 15 years in prison if Spanish leaders decide to pursue them.
The official results of Sunday’s referendum are expected to be presented to Catalonia’s parliament on Wednesday or Thursday, soon after which a formal declaration of independence is expected to be issued.
However, Catalonia’s government is seeking international mediation in order to proceed with measures towards independence. On Wednesday, the European Parliament will discuss the situation in Catalonia. Ska Keller, the co-president of Greens in the EU Parliament, will open the discussion.
In Madrid, officials considered the vote a provocation against Spanish sovereignty and Spain’s Ministry of Interior called for an emergency meeting.
The Spanish government considers the referendum illegal and in violation of the 1978 constitution, which affirmed that the country could not be divided and that the Spanish national government had the exclusive power to hold referenda.
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In an address to the nation Tuesday night, King Felipe V of Spain did not provide any suggestions about how the conflict would be resolved, instead saying that Catalonian leaders put themselves above the law.
“To all Spanish, but especially to the Catalans, we live in a democratic country where you can defend your ideas under Spanish law,” he said. “I understand your worries, but you can make sure you have the support of all Spanish.”
Spain is a country that includes diverse groups of people from Basque country to Andalusia. But Spanish Federal authorities have often reacted to the idea of Catalan independence with repression and aggression, which many Catalan have felt disrespected their identities, Marc Gafarot, an expert in Catalan history at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, told ABC News.
“Catalonia has gone past a point of no return,” Gafarot said. “Now it has become emotional.”
Some young Catalans have said they feel they are fighting not only for their generation, but for their grandparents as well.
Two blocks from the emblematic square of Barcelona, Plaza Catalonia, 16 year-old Mariana O. spoke to ABC News.
“I think a lot about my grandmother who passed away two years ago,” Mariana said. “She would be so proud of us. If Madrid thinks they will be able to destroy Catalans, they are wrong. It has been 300 years that we have been fighting to keep our language and our identity alive.”