1.1 million people rally in Barcelona in favor of greater Catalan autonomy within Spain

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — More than a million people gathered Saturday in northeastern Barcelona to demand greater regional autonomy for Catalonia and protest a recent court ruling forbidding this prosperous region from calling itself a nation.

City government spokesman Manuel Campillo said police had counted 1.1 million people at a vast rally that filled Barcelona's major Gran Via, Diagonal and Paseo de Gracia boulevards. Rally organizers, Omnium Cultural, calculated attendance at 1.5 million, spokesman Daniel Jove said.

Spain's courts recently granted sweeping new powers of self-rule to the region, but on Friday its highest court ruled that the country's Constitution recognized Spain as the country's only nation, dealing a blow to efforts by Catalonia to assume that status.

The verdict came after four years of debate in which conservative and liberal judges locked horns over whether the charter went beyond the limits of Spain's system of granting varying degrees of self-rule to its 17 regions.

Catalans have their own language and are proud of a history which, until 1714, linked them to the independent Kingdom of Aragon.

During the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco (1939-1975) Catalans were forbidden from speaking their language and it was illegal to publish books in Catalan.

Jove said about 1,400 Catalan organizations, including political parties, trade unions as well as cultural and business associations, had called on members to gather.

Sunny, hot weather enticed many people to attend the rally. Television news reports showed a multitudinous crowd waving Catalan nationalist flags, chanting and carrying banners saying "We are a Nation."


Associated Press Writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS day of week in the first paragraph.)