Thousands of people have come out in support of the former head of Catalonia's regional government and two of his aides who are on trial in Spain over an independence vote.
Three people on trial for organising independence referendum
Former regional leader says "we would do the same thing again"
Regional government wants legally binding referendum in 2017, in defiance of Spanish Government
Artur Mas and the two others are on trial in Barcelona for ignoring a constitutional ban in November 2014 and going ahead with a vote on the region's independence from Spain.
Supporters staged a show of force, with thousands accompanying the defendants through downtown Barcelona before the court appearance.
Protesters formed a 200-metre corridor in the last stretch leading to Catalonia's High Court, cheering and waving unofficial flags of independence.
"We shall overcome" was the slogan in some banners in English, with a gigantic display reading "Love democracy".
The five-day trial is likely to inflame longstanding tensions between the central government and the supporters of separatism in the wealthy north-eastern region of 7.5 million people.
Organisers at the time said 80 per cent of the 2.3 million Catalans who cast a ballot voted to support creating a Catalonian state independent from Spain.
The mock referendum was deemed illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court five days earlier, but Mr Mas and other officials gathered support from more than 40,000 volunteers who opened schools and installed voting stations.
"We are holding our head high, convinced that we did the right thing," Mr Mas said. "We would do the same thing again."
He faces a 10-year ban from holding public office for disobedience and wrong-doing.
Mr Mas declined to answer questions from the prosecution during the hearing. In replies to inquiries by his own defence lawyers, he blamed Spain's central authorities for not doing more to stop the vote.
He said his cabinet's aim "wasn't holding a vote that was immediately legally binding but rather knowing people's opinion after massive protests in past years".
Another referendum possible this year
Polls consistently show that Catalan residents who want to break from Spain are a minority, although the ranks of those who do want a vote on separatism have been swelling since the 2008 economic crisis.
Some lifelong secessionists argue only a separate Catalan state could protect their culture and their language, which is spoken side by side with Spanish.
In defiance of the constitutional ban and a fierce opposition by Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party, a new regional government in Catalonia has promised to pass laws to enable a legally binding referendum later this year.
But it's unclear how a new vote would be different from the 2014 vote.
The national government said no vote would be allowed and has pledged to boost investments in Catalonia.
I think the National Endowment for democracy needs to pay Spain a visit.