The Catalan independence movement has this Thursday filled the streets of Brussels with the largest demonstration the city has ever seen: 45,000 people, according to Belgian police.
The rally's size stormed past the police's forecasts, which forced them to change the route half an hour before the start of the event, causing a certain amount of chaos. Neither president Carles Puigdemont, nor minister Toni Comín, nor the secretary general of ERC (Catalan Republican Left), Marta Rovira, were able to reach the head of the demonstration before it started. It was initially led, instead, by those currently in charge of the organising bodies, Agustí Alcoberro and Marcel Mauri of ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Òmnium respectively and the president of the AMI (Association of Municipalities for Independence), Neus Lloveras.
Rovira was able to reach front row as the march was in progress, but the president and Comín didn't get there until the final stretch of the route.
When Puigdemont was finally able to reach the head of the demonstration, protesters crowded round to greet him, overflowing the security cordons causing several nervous minutes for the police as they tried to get the president out from the swarm of people and journalists he was trapped in. He was accompanied by former minister Francesc Homs and former president Artur Mas.
"Puigdemont, our president", "We're a republic" and "political prisoners, freedom" were some of the frequent chants heard. The march took place without any problems. At one point they passed a balcony draped in Spanish flags, playing Manolo Escobar's Que viva España (Long live Spain) at full volume, to which demonstrators responded with Catalan song Adéu siau (Farewell).
Before arriving at the stage, the cold and the biting wind were joined by rain. That didn't stop the protesters though, including the front row, from stoically following the speeches as the rain fell. The event started with playing Ode to Joy, with problems tuning from the cold and wait. That was followed by the speeches from Alcoberro and Mauri.
Both denounced persecution and violation of fundamental rights in Catalonia which they described as an aberration. "Our will is incorruptible, soon the European flag will have a new yellow star", predicted Alcoberro, whilst Mauri warned: "We're an open, pluralistic people. Catalonia, a European, Mediterranean country is today looking to Europe. There are political prisoners and leaders in exile. If democracy is in danger in one member state, it is at risk in the whole union".