Catalonia Separatists Form 250-Mile Human Chain To Support Independence

People form a human chain in Barcelona, Spain Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013.

People form a human chain in Barcelona, Spain Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013.

Independence activists in a provincial region of Spain are taking to different tactics to send their message.

Several hundred thousand people demanding an independent Catalonia joined hands to form a 250-mile human chain across the northeastern region of Spain.

The demonstration Wednesday aimed to illustrate local support for political efforts to break away from Spain. Organizers estimated about 400,000 people took part in the human chain.

Catalonia claims a deep cultural difference based on its language, which is spoken side-by-side with Spanish in the wealthy region.

Catalonia's regional leader Artur Mas has promised to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, but the Madrid-based government has said that such a vote would be unconstitutional.

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Polls indicate that the majority of Catalans agree on holding a referendum, though surveys in the region of 7.5 million people indicate support for independence is around 50 percent.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people that includes Spain's second-largest city of Barcelona, is one of the areas suffering the most after Spain's real estate bust produced a four-year-old economic crisis. Spain's economy is now in shreds and unemployment is 25 percent and rising.

Catalonia is responsible for around a fifth of Spain's economic output and many residents complain that the central government in Madrid takes in more tax money from the region than it gives back. 

Catalan has had a long history separatist sentiment, especially since its own language and cultural traditions were harshly repressed by Gen. Francisco Franco's military dictatorship from the end of Spain's Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975.

That sentiment was reignited last fall, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to ease Catalonia's tax load and 1.5 million people turned out in Barcelona for the largest nationalist rally since the 1970s.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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