Thousands march in Madrid supporting separatists on trial
Self-determination supporters carry ''estelada'' or Catalonia independence flags during a protest in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators made their way to Spain's capital to show support for Catalan former regional politicians who they consider political prisoners and are the defendants in an ongoing trial related to the 2017 independence push. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 16, 2019 2:19PM EDT
MADRID -- Tens of thousands are marching in Madrid to support Catalan politicians and activists standing trial for their attempt to secede from Spain.
The nine defendants face decades in prison on rebellion and other charges for staging a banned referendum in October 2017 and declaring Catalan independence, although they took no action to implement that.
Many supporters believe the defendants are "political prisoners."
Large pro-independence protests have been staged in Spain's northeastern region and in some European cities, but Saturday's is the first major separatist march in the Spanish capital.
Organizers expect 50,000 protesters, most of them travelling from Catalonia in some 500 buses.
A banner reading "self-determination is not a crime" opened the march.
Authorities in Madrid have deployed more than 500 police officers including riot police.