Spain celebrated its national day Thursday with a show of unity in the face of Catalan independence efforts, a day after the central government gave the region’s separatist leader a deadline to abandon his secession bid.
The country is suffering its worst political crisis in a generation after separatists in the wealthy northeastern region voted in a banned referendum on October 1 to split from Spain.
To mark the national holiday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI attended a traditional military parade in central Madrid.
Armed forces marched along Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana boulevard to commemorate the day that Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas in 1492.
But events were overshadowed by the crash of a Eurofighter jet, which went down on its route back to base after taking part in the display, killing its pilot.
Separate pro-unity rallies, including one by members of a far-right movement, were organised in the Catalan capital Barcelona.
– Spanish unity rally –
In Madrid, cheering crowds lined the streets, waving red and yellow Spanish flags and some crying “Viva Espana!” as air force jets and helicopters swooped overhead.
Some teenagers climbed trees to get a better look as thousands of troops and vehicles parade through central Madrid.
“I love to see people waving our national flag,” said Beatriz Trapero, who was watching with her husband.
“There used to be a certain shyness in showing it but now it seems not so much.”
Rajoy has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession.
His government says it is ready to take control of the region after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s announcement Tuesday that he accepted a mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state.”
But he quickly asked regional lawmakers to suspend it to allow for dialogue with Madrid.
Rajoy responded that Puigdemont had until next Monday to decide if he planned to push ahead with secession and then until next Thursday to reconsider, otherwise Madrid would trigger constitutional steps that could suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy.