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350,000 protesters flood Barcelona for separatist ‘freedom’ rally

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Around 350,000 people rallied in downtown Barcelona on Saturday, turning the streets into a sea of independence flags in the latest mass protest against Spain’s jailing of nine separatist leaders.

The turnout figure was given by the local police as vast crowds packed into a wide avenue running between the waterfront and the city’s towering Sagrada Familia basilica, which was closed to visitors.

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But as night fell, thousands joined a separate demonstration called by the radical CDR, massing along Via Laeitana outside police headquarters, whose windows were shuttered and the main entrance sealed off with plastic sheeting.

AFP / LLUIS GENE Police said some 350,000 people had turned out for the march which took place in the shadow of the Sagrada Familia basilica

Shouting: “Occupation forces, out!” and “The Spanish flag, out!” they hurled hundreds of multicolour plastic balls and marbles at the riot police guarding the building, who did not respond despite the rising tension.

Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the October 14 Supreme Court verdict which unleashed a wave of protest that quickly turned violent, with masked demonstrators clashing nightly with riot police.

More than 600 people have been injured in the protests, 367 of them civilians and 289 police, official figures show.

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The crisis began two years ago when the region staged a banned referendum on October 1 that was marred by police violence, then issued a short-lived declaration of independence, trigging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

AFP / Josep LAGO Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the controversial Supreme Court verdict on October 14 which unleashed a wave of huge demonstrations

Saturday’s main rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years.

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Marching down the spacious boulevard, demonstrators chanted “October 1, we won’t forgive, we won’t forget”, breaking into loud boos and whistling as a police helicopter flew overhead, an AFP correspondent said.

“I feel really angry,” said computer technician Marc, 26, who did not give his surname.

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“The violence doesn’t sit well with me but it’s normal to have a bit of upheaval like we’ve seen in Chile and Ecuador,” he said of a wave of mass protests in Latin America.

“There are different ways of protesting but we have one objective: independence.”

– ‘Not an option’ –

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But Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with polls showing 44 percent in favour and 48.3 percent against.

AFP / Josep LAGO Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with 44% in favour but 48.3% against, a recent poll showed

Speaking to reporters at the rally, Catalonia’s separatist president Quim Torra said his government was with the people “because it is what they want. We will go as far as they want”.

He had earlier pledged to push ahead with the controversial independence drive after meeting 800 local mayors who expressed support for secession.

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“The show of unity we’ve seen this week shows the next step that we all must follow… We must all push ahead and exercise the right to self-determination.”

AFP / OSCAR DEL POZO In Madrid, thousands joined a rally in support of Spain’s territorial unity called by the far-right Vox party

Torra has made repeated appeals for dialogue with the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez with the aim of securing Madrid’s agreement for a referendum on independence, but they have fallen on deaf ears.

“What we will not talk about is the right to self-determination,” Carmen Calvo, Sanchez’s deputy, told journalists on Saturday.

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“If.. the aim is to break up Spain’s territorial unity and separate Catalonia from Spain, we simply cannot talk,” she said. “Unilaterally breaking the rules of the game is not an option.”

– Counter rally on Sunday –

On Sunday, Catalans who want to remain part of Spain are planning a massive counter-demonstration to raise the voice of the region’s so-called “silent majority”.

“Those who oppose independence are a majority,” said Fernando Sanchez Costa, head of Catalan Civil Society (SCC), telling AFP the unrest was causing a lot of damage to Catalan society.

Earlier, thousands gathered in Madrid in defence of Spain’s unity at a rally organised by the far-right Vox party, which has taken a very tough line on Catalan separatism and wants all regional pro-independence parties banned.

Although the faction only entered parliament in April, polls indicate it might become the third-largest party following the November 10 election.

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‘A completely false narrative’: Defense secretary Epser snaps at CNN’s Tapper over firing of Navy captain and safety of sailors

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper was put on the hot seat on Sunday morning by CNN Jake Tapper over the firing of Captain Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was relieved of duty helming the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt for writing a letter for expressing concern for his crew as the coronavirus began to spread.

Esper went out of his way to say that he backed acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly decision to relieve Crozier who was attempting to protect the 5,000 sailors under his command, saying, "First and foremost, we needed to take care of the sailors on the ship. Ensure their well-being and get that ship out to sea as soon as possible. I'm pleased to report, over half of the ship has been tested. 155 came up positive, those are mild to moderate, no hospitalization whatsoever. The crew is being taken care of. With regard to the relief of the captain, I think the acting secretary made a tough decision, a decision that I support. It was based on his view that he lost faith and confidence in the captain based on his actions. It's just another example of how we hold leaders accountable for actions."

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‘A mockery of independence’: Trump to nominate White House lawyer to oversee $4.5 trillion coronavirus relief bill

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A late Friday announcement regarding President Donald Trump's nominee to oversee the implementation of the recently-passed $4.5 trillion coronavirus relief bill was regarded by government watchdogs as the president's latest attempt to protect the interests of powerful corporations while Americans are focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House announced that Trump would nominate Brian D. Miller, a special assistant to the president and senior associate counsel in the White House Counsel office, to oversee the prevention of fraud and abuse in the relief program. The law includes minimal relief for the public and what progressives have derided as a $500 billion "slush fund" for corporations, allowing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to "bail out any corporation he pleases, with almost no conditions," as Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl wrote last month.

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Louisiana pastor grilled on CNN for plan to pack 27 buses full of worshipers and haul them to church during COVID-19 crisis

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A Louisiana pastor was put on the spot on Sunday morning by CNN's Victor Blackwell for his plan to load up his buses and haul worshipers to his planned Sunday service at a time when the highly-c0ntagious COVID-19 pandemic has claimed thousands of lives throughout the country.

Speaking with the CNN host, Life Tabernacle Church pastor Tony Spell said he was ignoring advice from local officials to not host the service because it would endanger the health of his followers.

Asked whether he planned to go forward despite warnings, the pastor replied, "This morning, yes, sir, 10:00 AM. We will actually run our buses. We have 27 buses that we cover in a 50-mile radius of our city. We bring people into the house of God, feed them natural food and spiritual food and then we go right back into our respective places. It takes us about eight hours to run into service on Sunday morning and then we come back in tonight."

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