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article imageWorried, Catalans against independence wonder what next

By Marianne BARRIAUX (AFP)     Oct 5, 2017 in World

Asuncion Garcia sits on a bench in Barcelona anxiously reading a newspaper. She points to a graphic of the tumbling share price of CaixaBank, the biggest bank in Catalonia, a region which is threatening to split from Spain.

"I have savings in CaixaBank, the little that I have saved up," says the 68-year-old, originally from Leon in northwestern Spain but resident in Catalonia for over 50 years.

She is one of hundreds of thousands in the region who are against independence and are watching events unfurl with growing disquiet and anger.

The stand-off between Catalonia's separatist leaders and Madrid has escalated, with the regional executive warning they could proclaim independence as early as Monday.

They are backed by a wave of popular support among those in favour of splitting from Spain, and also among others furious at the police repression of an independence referendum that took place on Sunday despite a ban by Madrid.

- 'Silent majority' -

Other Catalans, though, are not so supportive of their regional leaders.

Calling themselves a "silent majority," they are against independence and worried about the economic and political consequences such a move would entail.

In the Nou Barris district of Barcelona, traditionally less separatist than other areas of the Mediterranean seaside city, many were concerned on Thursday.

But most refused to give their names, afraid of standing out in a general atmosphere of pro-independence fervour they don't feel they belong to.

One woman said she wouldn't identify herself "for fear".

The man next to her pointed to a Catalan separatist flag flying from a nearby balcony.

Justified or not, the fear points to growing tensions in Catalonia, where the latest opinion poll commissioned by the regional government in July had indicated just over 41 percent of inhabitants were pro-independence.

That figure may well have gone up since Sunday's police violence. Anger has erupted over anti-referendum measures judged too harsh such as the detention of organisers of the vote, which was deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court.

But roughly half of Catalonia is still believed to be firmly against separating from Spain, and as the economic stakes rise, so do their worries.

Spain's fifth-biggest bank Sabadell, for instance, decided on Thursday to shift its legal domicile away from Catalonia in response to the crisis.

Spain's fifth largest bank Sabadell is shifting its legal domicile away from Catalonia
Spain's fifth largest bank Sabadell is shifting its legal domicile away from Catalonia
Josep LAGO, AFP/File

"It's a disaster," says Garcia. She says many people she knows are currently holding out on buying non-urgent items like clothes to see how the situation evolves.

"People are scared of finding themselves without work, or not being able to take money out" of the bank, she says.

The subject of independence is even dividing families.

Jose-Maria, the 46-year-old manager of several cafes in Barcelona who refused to give his surname, says his two sons are pro-independence but he isn't.

"If we talk about the subject, we argue," he says.

In an opinion piece for the El Pais daily, Catalan filmmaker Isabel Coixet said she had been called a "fascist" by unknown men as she walked her dog, due to her public views against independence.

"For months, even years... the insults and discrediting directed at those who, like me, don't follow the independence movement's single thought and express our disagreement have been constant," she wrote this week.

"And in the past few months, the hate we have generated is reaching unprecedented heights."

- 'More important things' -

Figures in the Catalonia conflict
Figures in the Catalonia conflict

Even those whose experience has not been so publicly difficult complain that the "pros and cons" of an independent state have not properly been explained by Catalan leaders.

Juan, 67 years old and retired, questions how the wealthy yet heavily indebted northeastern region will be able to finance a new state.

"They won't be able to pay things here, the pensions," he says.

"They will have to have an army, pay the police, cleaning services, lots of things."

Over in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat near Barcelona, David Fernandez, a 42-year-old window-fitter, is equally confused.

"If they declare independence, what will happen?," he says.

"Will there be free healthcare? Work for all?"

He is angry at the police crackdown against the referendum, and says even that stance has caused problems among his friends who think the forces' action was "justifiable".

"There is definitely social disruption," he says.

"And with the crisis we're going through, with unemployment, there are more important things than all of this."

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