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Bizarre flag fight in Spain ahead of Catalan vote

A bizarre scuffle over flags between regional politicians in Catalonia, the region in north-eastern Spain vying for independence, broke out on Thursday as tensions run high in the region before a key vote on Sunday.

In Barcelona on Thursday, politicians from pro-independence parties in Catalonia and Spain's ruling conservative party tussled over the unfurling of flags outside Barcelona's City Hall in what has been described as a "childish spat."

At a rally of pro-independence supporters gathered outside the city hall, Alfred Bosch and Jordi Coronas of the left-wing, pro-independence Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) hung an estelada -- the official flag of the separatist movement - from the city hall's balcony.

The act immediately provoked Alberto Fernández Díaz, from the conservative Popular Party of Catalonia (PPC) -- an affiliate of Spain's ruling People's Party -- to try to hang the Spanish flag to the jeers of the crowd watching the tussle. He refused to move his flag until both were removed.


The flag fight comes amid rising tension ahead of a key vote in Catalonia on Sunday that is widely an election testing the public's appetite for independence.

Separatists argue that Catalonia, an industrial area and popular tourism destination that contributes 19 percent of Spanish GDP, is subsidizing the rest of Spain but opponents say that Catalonia might have lose the euro and be forced from the European Union.

Pro-independence parties have said that if they win a majority of the seats in the Catalan parliament, they will push ahead with plans for an official referendum on independence and negotiations with the Spanish government in Madrid for more power. For its part, the government calls the notion of independence nonsensical and refuses to negotiate.

Speaking to CNBC Friday, Alfred Bosch, who was involved in the tussle over flags on Thursday, told CNBC that "it was not such a big deal" and denied it was an inflammatory move.

"We just showed the freedom flag and it represents a movement now rolling on in Catalonia. It was a question of freedom of expression," he said.

"I showed the utmost respect for the Spanish flag and tried to pacify people booing at the flag and I also offered my apologies to anyone who might have felt offended by what happened."

As for the election on Sunday, Bosch felt that a vote for independence was primarily was Catalonia having its own constitution and believed independence was just a matter of time. "Eventually, I imagine there will be a declaration (of independence) like there was in the U.S," he said.

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