Thousands of people formed human chains on Sunday in several cities across Spain’s northern autonomous Basque region, demanding the right to hold an independence referendum.
The demonstration, which was organised by the pro-independence platform Gure Esku Dago (It’s in our hands), was attended by thousands including a number of separatist parties.
Protesters wore red, white as well as green Basque flags and marched with long multi-coloured cloths through the Basque capital Vitoria, Bilbao the largest municipality of the country, San Sebastian and Pamplona.
A similar protest was organised by the Gure Esku Dago group in 2014, where a 123- kilometre human chain was formed, starting from the Durango and ending in Pamplona.
“More and more people believe that the right to decide concerns all of us and that we have the right to decide our future,” Pello Urizar, the leader of left-wing separatist coalition, told journalists during the demonstration in San Sebastian according to AFP.
In Bilbao, protesters lined up along the Nervion river and stretched out towards the city’s iconic glass and titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum.
Live music and dance performances at the main stadiums in Bilbao, San Sebastian and Pamplona ended the rallies organised across the major cities.
“In a democratic society it is positive and good that individuals and civil society exercise their freedom of expression, assembly and protest to demand rights,” said Jose Erkoreka, a spokesman for the Basque government, said regarding the demonstrations.
“This is a reflection of a healthy society, which has concerns, aspirations and which mobilises,” he added.
Basque Country, which has its own distinct language and culture with a population of over 2 million, has gained confidence from large pro-independence demonstrations in Catalonia, and has steadily progressed towards an independence movement.
The region had been stuck in conflict for years as the Basque Country and Freedom (ETA) armed separatist group, which is accused of killing 829 people in a four-decade campaign for the independence of the region, continues its activities against the Madrid government.
ETA, which was first established in 1959, is an armed nationalist as well as a separatist group that has fought for the independence of seven regions in northern Spain and southwestern France in a bid to establish their own country.
Although members of ETA agreed to end their campaign of violence in 2011, the group is still refusing to disarm and surrender as demanded by the Spanish and French authorities.