BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of people gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to assert their right to be Spanish as well as Catalan in a protest designed to demonstrate to separatists that a significant proportion of the region's population is against splitting away from Spain.
Under the movement's slogan of "We are Catalonia, we are Spain," many waved flags saying "We are 47 million," a reference to the population of Spain.
"The vast majority of people here are against independence because if we go down that path Spain will be reduced," said Mariano Escudero, 70.
Catalonia regional President Artur Mas has said he wants to hold a referendum on independence.
The rally in the Catalan capital's main Plaza de Catalunya square coincided with Spain's national holiday which is also celebrated with a military parade in Madrid. This year Crown Prince Felipe presided over the parade because King Juan Carlos is recovering from surgery to his hip.
Protesters in Barcelona carried a large 100-meter flag, half bearing the Catalan region's colors and the other half those of Spain as loudspeakers played festive music.
There was a strong undercurrent of anger at Mas' secessionist policies. Some shouted, "We won't get fooled, we are Spain," while others wore the Spanish national football team's jersey and chanted, "Barcelona plus Madrid equals La Roja" — the squad's popular name.
Maite Avila, 39, who works for Mas' regional government, said she was furious at those leading the independence movement.
"Mas is only able to get away with this because we live in a democracy, otherwise someone would have cut his throat," said Avila, who was waving a Spanish flag.