- Title: SPAIN-CATALONIA Catalan separatists take to the streets as crucial vote nears
- Date: 11th September 2015
- Summary: BALLOTS SHOWING "YES" VOTE BALLOTS HANGING SEPARATIST ESTELADA FLAG / MEN DRESSED AS "MIQUELETS" SOLDIERS FROM THE 17TH CENTURY
- Embargoed: 26th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Spain
- Country: Spain
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAED7TG92ZG8PLIC5UVX0JOXI3S
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Barcelona geared up on Friday (September 11) to welcome hundreds of thousands expected to pack its streets to call for Catalonia to break away from Spain, two weeks before a regional election seen as a "make-or-break" moment for the independence movement.
Close to 500,000 people have registered to form a white "human mosaic" symbolising a blank page and the new country they hope to build after the Sept. 27 election, portrayed by local authorities as a proxy vote on secession.
The demonstration takes place on Catalonia's national day - or "Diada" - which this year also marks the launch of the official political campaign in the northeastern region, which accounts for nearly one fifth of Spain's output and population.
All Catalan traditions play a role during the Diada and hundreds of people take part in the many different events.
In downtown Barcelona, many tourists bump into what seems like a jump to the past as soldiers from the 17th century swear their loyalty to the Catalan flag.
They represent the "Miquelets", irregular mountain light troops that were active during the Catalan secessionist revolt of 1640 and then became part of the Army of Catalonia.
"For me this is not only a hobby or a way of remembering our history. It is a matter of pride, a way to honour all these people who paid a very high price to allow us reach the point where we stand now," Marc Clotet, president of the Miquelet Association told Reuters while his colleagues performed.
Another highlight is human towers, a tradition that attracts both Catalans and tourists.
Up to 60 "Casteller" groups will stage the different parts of the demonstration later on Friday, and the separatist sentiment among them is huge.
"For me this day is pure sentiment of Catalonia. If you don't feel today, if you are not excited today, if you don't sing (the Catalan national anthem) 'Els Segadors', if you don't watch human towers - see how they represent people's excitement and strength, if this doesn't move people, then strength is lost. Catalonia is all emotion," said Silvia Palomares, a 48-year-old interior designer.
"For us it means that when you build a human tower nothing is impossible. If you want to do something, everything is possible. It is possible to build high and big towers and it is possible to become independent some day," said Miquel Ferret, leader of the Castellers from Vilafranca, the most renowned group.
A closely-watched poll on Thursday (September 10) suggested the struggle over Catalan independence was set to intensify as separatist parties appeared on track to achieve the slimmest of majorities in seats in the regional parliament although they would fall well short of 50 percent of the vote.
While any outcome, positive or negative, is set to shake up further Spain's political agenda ahead of a December general election, a separatist victory is highly unlikely to translate into outright secession.
If pro-independence parties win at least 68 seats in the 135-member Catalan parliament they would trigger a "road map" to secession and a Catalan state within 18 months.
But a failure to achieve a majority of votes and seats would deal a serious blow to the movement, which has been losing steam since a symbolic referendum on independence last year.
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