Spanish unionist rally mocks Catalan separatist movement

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Thousands of Spaniards joined a rally in Barcelona on Sunday in response to a call by a grassroots group that uses humor to mock Catalonia's separatist push.

The group facetiously calls for the division of Catalonia into two parts. One would be for separatists who want to leave Spain and the other for those who want to remain a part of Spain, which would include the cities of Barcelona and Tarragona where unionist support is strong.

Miguel Martinez, the president of the "Platform for Tabarnia" association, said that the movement is "a serious joke, a parody." It began with jokes on social media that went viral.

"We won't let the secessionists lead Catalonia to disaster," Martinez told the Europa Press news agency. "We will never take the initiative and we will never become a political party, but we will always be there to push back."

The group's barbs include the slogan "Barcelona is not Catalonia," which twists the separatist slogan "Catalonia is not Spain." It has also named political satirist Albert Boadella as "Tabarnia's president in exile," making light of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium to avoid a court probe into his role in a failed secession bid.

Along with Spanish flags, many rally-goers carried "Tabarnia" flags created by the group.

While most of the protesters were locals, 31-year-old lawyer Carlos Arroyo came from Madrid to "support all Spaniards, no matter where we come from."

"There has been so much tension here in Catalonia for the past two or three years. I think people were seeking a release that drops the tension and makes people laugh," Arroyo said. "For me, Tabarnia means liberty, freedom of choice."

Secessionist lawmakers in Catalonia unsuccessfully tried to declare independence from the rest of Spain in October. They maintained a slim majority in the regional parliament after an election in December, although with less than half the votes due to election law that gives more weight to under-populated areas.

The separatist movement has created Spain's most serious political crisis in decades. Besides Puigdemont fleeing to Brussels, other leaders are currently in jail while under investigation and Spain's central government has been running Catalonia's regional affairs.

Catalonia's separatist parties are currently locked in drawn-out negotiations to form a government.

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