LEADING Catalan pro- independence figures have reaffirmed their determination to achieve their objective in the continuing conflict with Spain.

As hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Barcelona for the Catalan National Day, La Diada, former president Carles Puigdemont tweeted: “Today we will once again show the world that we persist despite the repression, that we have a right to live freely and in peace, and that no-one can decide our future for us.”

President Quim Torra said La Diada’s rallying cry was “objective independence” as Catalans moved from reacting to Spanish repression to a proactive stance.

The crowds, thousands of them draped in the colourful Catalan flag the Estelada, were not only marking the fall of Barcelona to Spanish forces in 1714, but also calling for freedom for their nine political prisoners, who are awaiting verdicts in their trial over the 2017 independence referendum.

Prosecutors are seeking sentences of up to 25 years for former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, the jailed leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) on charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds.

Junqueras, who has been elected a Catalan MP and MEP during his time in “preventative detention”, said: “What the state intends with this sentence is to behead a peaceful movement and, as it cannot detain two million citizens, it locks us up.”

He did not rule out further unilateral action on a referendum, saying: “We cannot discard any option that is democratic and peaceful.”

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Police stand by as demonstrators try to occupy the Catalan parliament

Jordi Cuixart, a jailed activist also on trial, tweeted: “We will never give up on being free. We’ll do it again.”

Roger Torrent, speaker of the Catalan parliament, said the majority in favour of independence would use La Diada to show “they do not want repression”.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau referred to the “absent voices” of the jailed leaders, and added: “It does not help, but makes a solution to the conflict more distant.”

During the march itself, a sound familiar to Scots rose above the general cacophony enveloping the centre of Barcelona when 11 members of Saor Alba Pipes and Drums, who were taking part in the parade, launched into Flower of Scotland.

The band has become a firm favourite at Scottish independence marches and is making its mark in Catalonia – after only being invited to La Diada a matter of a few weeks ago.

Local police said 600,000 people filled central Barcelona yesterday evening. Despite the day regularly attracting more than a million people, Torra described it as “a huge success” and was critical of commentators who had predicted a small protest.

“They did not want it to be a success,” he said, adding: The people of Catalonia always deliver.”

Torra said the day marked the end of an era: “Today one era ends and the response to the sentences [of jailed Catalan leaders] begins.”

Montserrat Balaguer Selga, 66, a retired nurse who voted yes in the 2017 referendum, said: “We’re very, very angry because nine of our politicians are in jail for letting us vote.”

“We want independence,” said 17-year old Maria Antichillimos, an Estelada draped over her shoulders. “We will never get tired because we know what we want and will keep fighting for it.”

One demonstrator, called Montse, told the Catalan News Agency: “I’m a bit sad that after seven years we are still here. I thought that by now we should have moved ahead with it.

“If they [Catalan leaders] receive a guilty verdict, it means they [Spain] can send anyone to jail.”

Demonstrator Ares added: “There are lots and lots of people here from many places, and I think that Spain is really scared of us. They won’t say that, but yes, they are scared.”

Jordi said he had come all the way from the Canary Islands: “I got here yesterday, I’m just here today.

“I’m not happy with the situation in Spain over the last few years and I believe the independence of Catalonia gives us a chance of building a new country.”