Tens of thousands of Catalan independence supporters are due to march through central Madrid on Saturday to renew their call for a vote on seceding from Spain.
The demonstration has been organised by two powerful civil society groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, around the slogan: “Self-determination is not a crime. Democracy is about deciding.”
Hundreds of coaches have been laid on to bring people to the capital from Catalonia andother parts of Spain.
A heavy police presence will be in place to ensure the event goes ahead peacefully and that possible confrontations with far-right groups bitterly opposed to Catalan independence are avoided.
Many members of Catalonia’s pro-independence regional government are due to attend the march, including the president, Quim Torra.
Torra’s predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, will not be in Madrid. He was sacked by the Spanish government after organising the unilateral independence referendum in October 2017, and is living in self-imposed exile in Belgium after fleeing Spain to avoid arrest.
Twelve of the pro-independence Catalan leaders who remained in Spain are currently on trial in Madrid over their alleged roles in the events that culminated in the staging of the referendum and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.
Puigdemont offered his solidarity to two of them, Jordi Sànchez, a regional MP and former president of the ANC, and Jordi Cuixart, the leader of Òmnium Cultural.
“Thank you for your steadfastness and dignity, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart,” he tweeted on Saturday. “Today in Madrid there will be a representation of a people that progresses in peace and solidarity, which wants more and better democracy, and which demands its right to exist and to be respected. Today will be a memorable day!”
Nine of those on trial, who include the former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras and the former speaker of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell, are accused of rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years. Other charges include sedition and the misuse of public funds.