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Catalan nationalists protest in Barcelona

A pro independence supporter waves an ”esteleda”, or Catalan pro independence flag, during a rally in support of the Catalonia’s secession referendum, in Bilbao, northern Spain, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Catalonia’s planned referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain’s government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country’s Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. (Photo: Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

Catalan nationalists and Spanish pro-unity demonstrators protest in Barcelona

Thousands of pro-unity demonstrators opposing a banned referendum on Catalonian independence from Spain gathered in a Barcelona square on Saturday in a sign of how the disputed vote on Sunday has divided the country.

The referendum, declared illegal by Madrid, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and raised fears of street violence as a test of will between the central government and the wealthy northeastern region plays out.

Demonstrators waving Spanish flags filled the central square outside the seat of the regional government and Barcelona city hall. One man burnt the Catalan flag while a group tried to tear down a banner reading ‘More democracy’ hanging from the front of the town hall to cheers from the crowd.

Hours before voting was due to start, it was still unclear whether the referendum would go ahead despite the regional government’s assertions that it will proceed and Madrid’s insistence that it will block the move.

Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to attempt to vote on Sunday, although the ballot that will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

Catalonia has 7.5 million people, many of whom speak the Catalan language, and has a larger economy than Portugal. (Reuters)

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