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Catalans Calling Themselves 'Silent Majority' Protest Independence Effort


The leader of Catalonia may have declared independence, but there are hundreds of thousands of people living there who don't want to separate from Spain. They call themselves the silent majority, and they were out holding rallies in Barcelona yesterday. The central government in Madrid has taken over Catalonia since the regional leader declared his intention to secede, and there's a lot of uncertainty now about what comes next. We've reached journalist Lucia Benavides in Barcelona. She's been covering all this. Hi, Lucia.

LUCIA BENAVIDES: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So what happens next to Carles Puigdemont? He is still calling himself the Catalan president even though the central government in Spain has basically fired him.

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So he's still calling himself the president. He actually, on Saturday in a video, he called for a democratic opposition to the Spanish government's takeover of the region, and he vowed to continue working towards a free country and stressed peaceful conduct. He was vague, however, about what the next steps are as the Spanish authorities continue to move into Barcelona to enforce control. He is expected to show up to work today. He hasn't showed up yet. We don't know what time or when, but if he does, and as more - there are some Catalan government officials that are showing up to work, and they're being escorted out by the local Catalan police force. So as that continues, we continue to see that throughout the day, there could be some protests and potential pushback from the police as a result.

MARTIN: So how does he justify this? Because this is far from unanimous. I mean, there are these crowds of people, of Catalans, who say they don't want to split from Spain. I mean, what do they tell you? What's it been like on the streets and having these conversations in Barcelona?

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So yesterday, on Sunday, about 300,000 people filled the streets of Barcelona, and there were supporters of a unified Spain. Their biggest things are, they say that they come out to defend the unity of Spain and to defend the law of Spain. So according to who you speak with, the independence referendum is illegal or legal. The Catalan government says it's legal because they passed a law paving the way for the referendum and for the creation of a Catalan republic. The Spanish government says it's illegal because the Spanish constitution says that Spain indivisible and so therefore no one can break away from Spain. And so an independence referendum therefore is illegal.

So there's tension between these two groups. A lot of Catalan people that are also - consider themselves Spanish and don't want to break away from Spain came out, and there were also some tense situations because there were some ultra right groups that joined the protests on Sunday. And so there were some altercations. There were two people that were injured before and after the protests and lots of videos coming out of people - of pro Spain, presumably ultra right people, chanting things against independence and the Catalan president and things like that.

MARTIN: It's getting even more complicated. So I mean, what does happen now? Because now the central government has essentially taken over Catalonia, what does that mean for people's day to day lives?

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So what presumably this means - and again, we don't know exactly what's going to happen because this is unprecedented. This Article 155 that's taking over or taking away autonomy from Catalonia has never been invoked before. But, theoretically, the Spanish government will - they already have dissolved the Catalan government, and they will be replaced with Spanish officials and they will have snap elections on December 21.

MARTIN: Snap elections coming up. OK. Journalist Lucia Benavides, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

BENAVIDES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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