Over 45,000 pro-Catalonia protesters demonstrated in Brussels on Thursday to show support for the region's deposed president Carles Puigdemont and urge the European Union to support its drive for independence from Spain. 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. 'We want to return, but there are no guarantees, ' he said, reiterating that the four pro-independence leaders, two ex-advisers and the leaders of the two main separatist groups that did remain in Spain, are still imprisoned for crimes considered political.
Activists have boasted they will bring Brussels' EU quarter to a standstill in protest at the lack of support from the bloc since the referendum.
Puigdemont, who along with four of his former ministers is in self-imposed exile in the Belgian capital, is wanted in Spain in relation to an ongoing investigation into allegations of sedition and rebellion for his role in Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence from Spain, which was branded illegal by the Spanish courts.
"Brussels is a kind of a loudspeaker for us", said Gloria Cot, a protester from Barcelona.
The Spanish government on Monday revoked a European arrest warrant for the five, but Puigdemont said he would stay in Brussels for the moment as he and his allies still faced arrest in Spain if they returned for regional polls in Catalonia that Madrid has called for 21 December. "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".