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'I don't want an independent Catalonia': Rally backs unified Spain

BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia residents opposed to independence from Spain took to the streets of Barcelona in large numbers Sunday but struck a moderate tone, with many saying they felt Catalan and Spanish — and wanted to remain both.

Many of those marching in favor of a unified Spain pledged to vote in the Dec. 21 elections for a new Catalan Parliament, which were announced by the Spanish prime minister Friday when he stripped the Catalan government of its power.

The tone of the rally, much like the overall mood in Barcelona over the weekend, was one of relief: The tensions of recent weeks over the Oct. 1 referendum and the subsequent retaliation by Spain's central government appeared to have subsided.

But whether the mood has really shifted or whether Catalans were simply resting and girding for the next confrontation was hard to tell.

"I am Catalan with blood from Andalusia and Galicia — I don't want an independent Catalonia," said Sandra Gonzalez, 37, one of the demonstrators, who was bearing a handmade cardboard sign saying the same, referring to two other regions of Spain.

Gonzalez echoed a feeling expressed by many that the independence drive was dividing colleagues in the workplace, children in school and even families whose members lean in different directions. "We are in the middle and we feel bad," she said.

Separatists, who sponsored the referendum in Catalonia, Spain's wealthiest region, won it by a large margin. But many of the 7.5 million residents there oppose independence and abstained after the Spanish Supreme Court deemed the vote unconstitutional. That raised doubts about the credibility of a vote in which there was not broad participation.

But on Friday, the regional government led by Carles Puigde­mont, who has long called for a separate state, followed up the referendum results with a declaration of independence.

In response, Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, dissolved the regional government, effectively ousting Puigdemont from office. He announced elections for a new regional Parliament at the same time, in part to try to quell fears of a takeover by the central government.

On Saturday, Puigdemont called for a peaceful "democratic opposition," although it is not clear what that might mean.

In the meantime, the region will be governed from Madrid. Most of those working for the regional government will remain in their jobs, although there are estimates that as many as 150 people will have to step down.

Many of the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets Sunday were carrying or wrapped in Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags. "Catalonia is Spain," they chanted.

A few chanted, "Puigdemont, go to jail." But the overall atmosphere was relaxed and few police officers could be seen other than those patrolling to keep motorists off the streets surrounding the demonstration.

The police estimated there were 300,000 people at the rally. The organizers said there were 1.1 million.