Madrid Unity Rally Mired by Fascist Salutes From Far-right Falange Party Members

Some 50,000 Spaniards demonstrated across Madrid for unity after Catalonia passed a referendum to secede

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A right wing Falange party supporter salutes during a rally in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017
A right wing Falange party supporter salutes during a rally in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017Credit: AP Photo/Paul White

Thousands of people gathered Saturday in Madrid to defend the unity of Spain, the Constitution and the rule of law in the face of an independence challenge and a possibility of an imminent unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia.

Some 50,000 citizens, answering calls by DENAES, foundation for the Spanish Nation Defense, demonstrated in the Plaza de Colón, or Columbus Square, in the Spanish capital, according to the Spanish government.

In a festive atmosphere, protesters assembled in the Plaza de Colón, and placed on the ground a large flag of Spain, while shouting slogans such as "Puigdemont to Prison" or "Long live the National Police and Civil Guard."

Right wing Falange party supporters attends a rally in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017Credit: AP Photo/Paul White

They also displayed banners with slogans such as "Coup to Jail" with photos of president of the Catalan regional government Carles Puigdemont, vice president Oriol Junqueras, and Josep Lluis Trapero, head of the Catalan police.

"Unity of Spain will never be defeated" was one of the most heard shouts in the march, which was attended by people of all ages.

Some right-wing Falange party supporters also attened the rally and made fascist salutes while urging for Spainish leaders to invoked article 155 of the country's constitution, stripping Catalonia of its autonomy.

The Falange party, which is widely seen as a fascist, right-wing fringe movement in Spain, was founded in 1934 and later led by General Franco, whose right-wing nationalists won the 1936-1939 civil war against the left-wing Republican government, leaving some 400,000 people dead.

Franco and his fascist regime remained in power until his death in 1975. Many Catalans, who have their own language and have always seen themselves as distinct from the rest of Spain accused Franco of trying to suppress their regional identity.

The Spanish government could use constitutional powers to suspend Catalonia's autonomy and prevent the region from splitting from Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an interview to newspaper El Pais published late on Saturday.

Asked if he was ready to trigger the article 155 of the constitution, which enables him to sack the regional government and call a fresh local election, Rajoy answered: "I don't rule out absolutely anything that is within the law ... Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to implement extreme solutions but for that not to happen things would have to be changed."

Rajoy also said he planned to leave in Catalonia the extra 4,000 police officers the government had shipped in to region for an independence vote on Oct. 1 until the crisis was over.

The conservative prime minister added he would not call a snap national election as a result of the political crisis and ruled out using mediation to resolve it.

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