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Catalan pro-independence demonstrators hold "estelada," or separatist flags, as they arrive to Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators made their way to Spain’s capital to show support for former regional politicians who they consider political prisoners and are the defendants in an ongoing trial related to 2017 independence push. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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A Catalan pro-independence demonstrator drinks using a wineskin, as they arrive to Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Tens of thousands are marching Madrid in support of Catalan politicians and activists standing trial for an attempt to secede from Spain. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
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 traveling 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.