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Tens of thousands gather for Catalan referendum anniversary

Pro independence demonstrators wave "esteladas" or independence flags, as they sing in a field overlooking the Lledoners prison in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, about 50 kilometres away from Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. Hundreds of Catalonia residents gathered near the Lledoners prison, where most prominent jailed separatists are awaiting trial, to mark nearly one-year since an unauthorized independence referendum was held in this region of Spain last year. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

By Sam Edwards

Tens of thousands of Catalans filled central Barcelona yesterday to mark the first anniversary of an ill-fated independence referendum, as protesters made short-lived attempts to block roads and train tracks in the northeastern region.

Crowds of students filled the city's central square, waving yellow, red and blue separatist flags and chanting 'October 1, no forgiving, no forgetting'. Nearby, others let off smoke bombs and fireworks.

Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia after it declared independence following the referendum. Elections later returned a regional government favouring a split with Spain though a party supporting union won most votes.

Polls in Catalonia show a fairly even split between those who favour remaining in Spain and those who want to secede, while Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he favours dialogue on the region's future but has ruled out any moves towards independence.

Monday's protests showed the independence movement was not beaten, said 57-year-old warehouse worker Marcal Mata.

"We want to send the message that it didn't end on that day (last year). And although the world's eyes are no longer on us, we will push on," he said.

Maria del Mar Lladro, 55, walking her dog in a Barcelona park on Monday said she was in the pro-union camp.

"There are a lot of us but we don't make much noise. It could be seen badly, you could be singled out," she said.

Elsewhere in the region, hundreds of protesters attempted to block train tracks and roads, with some laying tyres across a motorway, but they were quickly dispersed.

Events also passed off with little drama in Sant Julia de Ramis, a village where violent clashes broke out a year ago between riot police and those attempting to vote.

People queued there on Monday to re-enact the ballot - which Madrid banned as anti-constitutional - while regional leaders gave speeches.

"The first of October will be the seed of the republic," said regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent.

On Saturday, six people were arrested in Barcelona after pro-independence protesters clashed with police, as thousands joined rival demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the polarising vote.

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