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article imageWorried and divided, Barcelona torn over independence

By Laurence BOUTREUX (AFP)     Oct 10, 2017 in World

Barcelona residents on Tuesday waited with bated breath to hear whether Catalan president Carles Puigdemont would follow through with his threat to declare independence.

On the Las Ramblas boulevard -- Barcelona's most famous avenue hit by a deadly terror attack in August -- people were braced for another shock: the possible breakaway of Catalonia from Spain.

"We never thought it would get this far," a florist in favour of staying and a pro-independence saleswoman both said.

Under the autumn sun, the sound of wheeled suitcases rumbled across the wide pedestrian-friendly streets, nearly two months after the jihadist attack that killed 14 people.

This time, said Carolina Palles, it is because of "politics" that today is "a sad day".

"I would never have thought that nearly two months after the attacks in Catalonia, we would have moved so quickly toward independence," she said, manning the flower stand her family has owned for four generations.

Carolina is not in favour of independence, but feels both sides are to blame for the current political crisis -- Spain's worst since its transition to democracy in the 1970s.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy "handled things very badly," she said, while accusing the separatists "of persisting until the very end, like martyrs."

- 'Dialogue and more dialogue' -

While major companies have already transferred their headquarters out of the region, the 53-year-old florist directed this saying to the separatists: "We cannot leave our parents' house if we don't already have housing and a job, otherwise we end up sleeping under bridges".

In the next-door market of La Boqueria, Neus Aviles sells bottles of sangria decorated with bullfighters to foreigners.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address Catalans from Parliament
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address Catalans from Parliament

The pro-independence saleswoman believes Catalan leaders will declare independence.

The 61-year-old said the "separatists have reached an extreme," while 10 years ago, only 13.9 percent of Catalans were in favour of independence, according to polls.

She voted "yes" to an independent Catalan republic in the October 1 referendum outlawed by Madrid, but remains in shock over the brutal repression that day: "The only idea that came to them, in Madrid, was to bring out the batons and rubber bullets".

Both vendors unknowingly agree on other points: there should have been "dialogue and more dialogue" and that new regional elections would help.

- 'Rajoy out of power' -

Behind the market, which still displays the slogan "vote to be free," seven teenagers were having a picnic.

"If they really declare independence, it is a little scary because we don't know if they will imprison our president (Carles Puigdemont), suspend autonomy of the region, as had happened at the time of (Francisco) Franco," 16-year-old Helena, who described herself as a pro-independence leftist, said.

At the airport, a security source told AFP that "150 more police officers arrived this week as reinforcements".

The police closed access to the famous Ciutadella Park surrounding the Catalan Parliament, where Puigdemont is due to speak at 6 pm (1600 GMT).

Thousands marched in Barcelona on Sunday calling for Spanish unity and denouncing Catalonia's c...
Thousands marched in Barcelona on Sunday calling for Spanish unity and denouncing Catalonia's contested vote for independence

At a crossing at the entrance to Las Ramblas, regional official Guiomar Garcia said she was shocked by Madrid's warning that Puigdemont could "end up" like one of his predecessors, Lluis Companys -- who declared an independent Catalonia in 1934 and was shot in 1940 during Franco's regime.

"To say that in the 21st century is strong" the 39-year-old Garcia who voted "yes" in the referendum, said.

"It's not that I want independence, but it was to take Rajoy out of power because of the repression and the lack of respect".

Psychologist Yolanda Bernardo is more resolute.

"I have been pro-independence my whole life and I say yes to an immediate declaration," the 42-year-old said.

"They left Puigdemont with no other choice and if he doesn't do it, it's the people who will protest".

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