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article image'We're in Spain', say residents in Catalan town of Santa Coloma

By Marie GIFFARD (AFP)     Oct 28, 2017 in World

"To the rest of Europe, we look like fools": In the Catalan town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, residents are staunchly against a declaration of independence they say doesn't represent them.

Many in this 120,000-strong town, with more Spanish than separatist flags flying from balconies, are Catalan by adoption -- Spaniards from elsewhere who arrived 50 years ago or more and whose children were born here.

It's market day in the centre of the town just north of Barcelona, less than 24 hours after the regional parliament proclaimed a Catalan republic not recognised by Madrid.

In the brand-new market building, customers go from stall to stall, as vendor Ana Guerrero lays out cakes and fritters in plastic containers.

The region has become the laughing stock of Europe, says the 48-year-old, shrugging.

"We should have held a legal referendum, but the way in which it took place, definitely not," she adds, moving on to weigh sweets.

The secessionist crisis in Catalonia, which has led to Madrid imposing direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, was sparked when separatist leaders held an independence referendum on October 1 despite a court ruling it unconstitutional.

Thought not in full support of the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Guerrero nevertheless feels the team is "doing what they have to do."

Isabel Henranz, 77, and her 52-year-old daughter Isabel Escribano walk by arm in arm.

Henranz came to Catalonia from central Spain when she was 22 to get married, and hopes the crisis won't last.

Describing it as a "big bang that exploded and left us disconcerted," she regrets not having spoken out more.

"We should have expressed ourselves more, but we keep quiet," she said, adding that people against independence tend to "show ourselves less."

Her daughter, who works in insurance, thinks the "Catalan parliament didn't take into account 60 percent of the population" of the region deeply divided on independence.

The unilateral declaration of independence, she feels, didn't "take into account the rest of the people, who also have a right to vote, and wanted to vote."

"If the government had authorised the vote, we wouldn't have got to this stage."

Her mother believes it will be tough to bring the two camps together again, and Escribano agrees.

Both declare they are "still in Spain," and eager to go to protest in Barcelona on Sunday along with others against the independence push.

- 'I love Spain' -

For Salvador Garcia, divisions have affected every relationship, even with friends.

But he's convinced of one thing -- there are more Catalans for, than against, remaining in Spain.

"They've always stayed silent, but tomorrow they will be on show."

"Companies are leaving," the 55-year-old chef says. The uncertainty has already prompted close to 1,700 businesses to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, meaning they will pay their taxes elsewhere.

"That's more taxes that we will have to pay, us, workers," says Garcia.

For Manuel Andaluz, the answer is to be found in the law.

"The Catalan government lied to people, it only represents half of the people," says the 65-year-old retired teacher

In contrast, "Rajoy's government merely enforced the constitution," he insists.

Originally from Zaragoza in northeastern Spain, Andaluz has lived in Catalonia for more than 40 years and says "what happened yesterday was awful."

He says the issue is hurting families. Andaluz has five brothers: "three think one thing, and three the other."

He wants to remain in Spain.

"I love Spain and I have the right, just like everyone else, to live here."

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