Spain celebrates national day amid Catalan secession crisis

MADRID (AP) — Thousands of Catalans who want their region to remain in Spain marked the country’s national day Thursday, marching through Barcelona waving both Spanish and Catalan flags and shouting “I am Spanish,” as the region’s threats of independence have left the country in crisis.

Meanwhile, in the national capital Madrid, troops and police paraded in front of King Felipe VI, accompanied by national and regional politicians. Thousands of people waving Spanish flags lined the sidewalk of Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana avenue for the military parade.

The pilot of a fighter jet taking part in the Madrid parade died when the plane crashed while landing at a base in Albacete, some 300 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of the Spanish capital, authorities said.

In Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, a crowd of people that local police said numbered 65,000 marched to a central square, some with their faces in the red and yellow colors of both the Spanish and Catalan flags and shouting “Viva Espana” — “Long live Spain.”

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“We are now feeling that years of threats by separatists have turned into an attempt to normalize social division,” said Juan Jose Garde, a 63-year-old retired civil servant who was joining a national day march for the first time after years of enjoying the holiday by taking his family to the beach.

For many others, Thursday’s march in central Barcelona was also a first.

Montse Sanchez, a 56-year-old Catalan bank clerk, said she only felt the urge to protest when the separatists’ bid recently became “an imposition of thought.”

“They want to impose on us the ideas of one, but in Catalonia we are more than one, we are many people with very different feelings toward nationality,” she said.

The slogan of the march was “Yes to Catalonia. Spain, too,” supporting Catalan autonomy, but within Spain as a whole.

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