Catalans flock to Brussels to back ousted president
They came by bus, car and coach, bringing their children and dogs, draped in the flag of Catalonia and with their yellow ribbon symbol pinned proudly to their chests.
Some marched with prams, others drove their mobility scooters towards the park where ousted leader Carles Puigdemont was due to speak.
Organisers claimed at least 50,000 Catalans had travelled the 1,200km to Brussels to bring the heart of the city's European Union quarter to a standstill. Belgian media reported the number to be at least 20,000.
They marched en masse through the Brussels drizzle and past the headquarters of the European Commission.
"The weather is poor," said Joseph Teixidor (42), a banker. "But the people are warm." Mr Teixidor, his physiotherapist wife Laura Planes (38) and their daughter Sara (6) had driven for 12 hours either side of an overnight stop in France.
"We are here because we want the EU to listen to us. Carles Puigdemont is our elected president and he is still our elected president." he said.
The EU has greeted the Catalan independence movement's cries for help with either deafening silence or solid statements of support for the Madrid government. Some protesters held posters of Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, with the word "Shame" emblazoned above him.
Jordi Santivere (51) clutched his shivering lapdog whose coat had a tiny Catalan flag. The bus driver had ferried his wife, Nuria Martin (50), for 14 hours from Barcelona. He said the moment he chose to back independence came six years ago.
"You have to see the problems in Barcelona. The Spanish government is not good," he said.
"We are also here for our political prisoners. That is why we have come," he added.
Eva Fernandes (47) and Sergi Soler (47) travelled in a group of five a 20-hour marathon bus trek. "Everyone except maybe one Spanish guy on the full bus was Catalan," said Mr Soler.
Ms Fernandes said they had set off on Wednesday at 11am and arrived at 6.30am yesterday. "I have supported independence since I was born. My father did and my grandfather fought in the Civil War," the hospital biologist said.
"My grandfather did as well," said Mr Soler, a software engineer, who accused the EU of ignoring Catalonia.
Ms Fernandes said she was pessimistic the EU would listen to their plight. "We are here for Puigdemont and for the political prisoners," she said.
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Spanish deputy prime minister, said the only reason the protesters were able to march in Brussels was because they were citizens of Spain, an EU member state. She took a swipe at Mr Puigdemont for campaigning from exile, saying that instead of going out to ask people for their vote, "some citizens have had to go and visit him" in Brussels.
© Daily Telegraph London