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In their first large mass rally since the start of the pandemic, thousands of Catalan separatists took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday ahead of upcoming talks with the Spanish government.

Protesters waved independence flags and wore T-shirts with messages for their cause in downtown Barcelona. People used face masks for the event, which took place after regional authorities dropped restrictions on the number of people who can gather with declining COVID-19 cases.

The meeting between representatives of the Catalan and central governments has no date yet, but it should be soon.

This second meeting between the two parties is supposed to advance the negotiations towards the possible search for a solution to the political crisis which has escalated since the failure of the 2017 attempt by the Catalan secessionists to force a rupture.

Expectations remain extremely low for a quick fix as Catalan separatists demand an authorized referendum on independence. The central government said a vote is expected to be on a proposal to improve the northeast region’s relations with the rest of Spain.

Divisions within the separatist camp over the usefulness of negotiations marked Saturday’s rally. The main pro-secession party supports the talks as the best way forward, but the other two main parties on the separatist camp believe that only another unilateral push will fulfill their dream of creating a new state.

Catalan voters have for several years been roughly evenly divided on the issue of secession, with half for and half wanting to stay in Spain.

The gathering marked Catalonia’s National Day, or “Diada”, which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in 1714 during the War of the Spanish Succession and the subsequent loss of institutions in the region.

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euronews Gt