Tens of thousands rally in Barcelona to back independence on Catalan holiday (PHOTOS)

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Massive crowds gathered in Barcelona to mark the Catalan national holiday and to demand independence from Spain, in a vocal message from the separatist movement, whose leadership has mostly been jailed by Madrid for “rebellion.”

Tens of thousands rallied in the Catalan capital on Wednesday for “Diada,” Catalonia’s national day, in a colorful pro-independence demonstration replete with banners, flags and patriotic chants.

Following 2017’s ill-fated independence vote –which Madrid declared illegal and invalid– dozens of Catalan separatist leaders were arrested, on charges ranging from misuse of state funds to “rebellion,” over their involvement in the referendum. A verdict in one high-profile case involving 12 leaders is expected in the coming weeks.

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Though tension with Spain’s central government has hardly subsided since the contentious referendum nearly two years ago, Spanish President Pedro Sanchez acknowledged the holiday with optimism in a tweet.

“Today should be a day that unites all Catalans … on the path of dialogue within the Constitution, coexistence, respect and understanding,” he wrote.

The annual celebration commemorates the fall of Barcelona to the Bourbon monarchists in 1714, during the War of Spanish Succession. It was first celebrated in the 1880s, but was outlawed following the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Since the 1970s, it has become a rallying point for the Catalan independence movement, which seeks to separate Catalonia from Spain and to create an independent nation-state.

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