TENS of thousands of Catalan independence supporters rallied in Barcelona yesterday. The march was organisers’ attempt to re-ignite the movement ahead of the five-year anniversary of the unsuccessful referendum bid to break away from Spain.

For the past decade, the September 11 rally held on Catalonia’s main holiday has been the focal point of the movement. It has drawn in several hundreds of thousands of people.

But the unity between pro-independence political parties and the civil society groups that led the October 2017 independence push, which received no international support, is in trouble.

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The Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civil group organising yesterday’s march, is strongly opposed to the talks the Catalan government is holding with Spain’s central government in Madrid. The influential organisation says it has lost faith in political parties and is ready to move on without them.

That led Catalonia’s president, Pere Aragones, to announce he would be the first Catalan president to not attend the annual march.

Dolors Feliu, the president of ANC, said she hopes the rally will persuade Aragones to cease negotiations as she is convinced that, if left to Spain, Catalonia will never be free.

“We understand that it has to be the people on the street and the institutions committed to independence who achieve independence and that the Spanish state will oppose us,”

Feliu said. “If we wait for the approval of the Spanish state, we won’t get anywhere.”

Members of Aragones’s Republican Left of Catalonia party who did attend the rally endured jeers of “traitors” from spectators when they made the traditional offering of flowers at a monument to a Catalan nationalist in Barcelona in the morning.

Aragones defends the talks with the government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as vital.

He insists he will not renounce his pledge to hold another referendum on independence but in the short term the talks are crucial to finding solutions for the dozens of Catalans who are in legal trouble for their role in the 2017 breakaway bid that was ruled illegal by Spanish courts.

Coinciding with the talks, Spain’s government issued pardons last year for nine Catalan separatist leaders who had been sentenced to long prison terms for leading the 2017 bid.

Catalan pro-independence parties won 52% of the votes in an election last year and maintained their hold on parliament, but after years of tensions and protests that turned violent in 2019, many people, especially the Catalans who want to remain a part of Spain, are relieved there is a dialogue with central authorities.

There are divisions also between the political parties that form Catalonia’s government.

The junior member of Aragones’ government shares the ANC’s scepticism of the talks with Madrid. Its leadership has publicly talked about leaving the government unless there is a stronger plan of action to force independence.