MADRID (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people from Spain’s Basque Country joined hands to form a human chain running some 202 kilometers (125 miles) on Sunday to call for the right to hold a regional independence vote.
Spain’s Constitution, created in 1978 after the end of dictator Francisco Franco’s regime, states that the country is indivisible and last-year’s attempt by Catalonia to hold a secession referendum was met with a harsh legal crackdown.
Former Prime Minister with the conservative People’s Party (PP) Mariano Rajoy, who has been roundly criticized for his handling of the Catalan crisis, was ousted by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez in a no confidence vote June 1.
Sanchez, who now heads the government following the vote, has called for renewed talks with the Catalan leadership.
While most from the Basque Country, which already has a high level of self-determination and, like Catalonia, has its own language and culture, do not support independence, many believe the population should be given the right to vote.
The human-chain protest was organized by Basque group Gure Esku Dago (In Our Own Hands) and ran from Donostia (also known as San Sebastian) to the Basque parliament in Gasteiz (Vitoria).
The Spanish government, backed by the constitutional court, maintains that any ballot on regional independence is illegal.
An Oct. 1 ballot on Catalonia’s separation from Spain and consequent unilateral declaration of independence by the regional government prompted Madrid to take control of the region and arrest the civil servants involved in the vote.
Reporting by Miguel Gutierrez; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Alexandra Hudson