Tens of thousands of Catalan separatists marched in Brussels on Thursday to show support to their ousted leader Carles Puigdemont, who faces arrest in Spain and is now in Belgium.
There were chants of "Puigdemont, President" from the crowd of demonstrators, many of whom travelled from Spain for the occasion. However, support came from all over Europe as protesters arrived after 12-hour treks across France and Spain.
"We can not abandon our president, who is in exile here", Antoni Llenas, 59, a protester wearing a flag over his shoulders, told AFP.
European Union banners were on display with the words, "Shame on you", scrolled across the emblematic crest, while Flander's yellow lion of the Flemish Region in Belguim flew proudly in solidarity with their sister province, Catalonia, both united in their push for independence.
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Puigdemont, along with Antoni Comin, Meritxell Serret, Clara Ponsati and Lluis Puig, who have been with him in Belgium since October 30, have been on probation since November 5 while the Belgian judiciary considers the arrest warrants and their extradition, Efe news reported.
The route, expected to finish close to the European Parliament, brought protesters just around the corner from the European Commission, where its Vice President Frans Timmermans told a press conference that the atmosphere he had witnessed was very positive and determined. "It is a loudspeaker so that people can know that we really don't have a 100 percent democracy in Spain and that Catalonia has always been subjected to problems with Spain".
On Tuesday, Spain's supreme court withdrew the European Arrest Warrants issued for Carles Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet, effectively daring the fugitive leader to return to Catalonia and face arrest for the 21 December vote or remain in exile.