Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards filled the streets of this city Sunday to show they are against an independent state in Catalonia and for the central government's takeover of the breakaway republic.

And, many added, they wanted to see the leaders of the attempted secession punished.

It was not so much a protest as a victory march. They believed they had won. There would be no “Republic of Catalonia.”

As the streets swelled with an estimated 300,000 or more demonstrators, many waving Spanish flags, there were chants urging authorities to arrest Carles Puigdemont — who as Catalan regional president led the move toward independence — and his top lieutenants.

“To jail!” they shouted.

Thousands of pro-unity protesters gather in Barcelona, two days after the Catalan parliament voted to split from Spain. The Spanish government has responded by imposing direct rule and dissolving the Catalan parliament. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Some held aloft posters showing Puigdemont behind bars.

Inés Arrimadas of the Citizens party in Catalonia told reporters before the march began that “the silent majority of Catalans are once again taking to the street to show that the majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European.”

Arrimadas walked out of the Catalan regional Parliament on Friday as it cast the vote for independence, which was quickly thwarted.

Frustrated by the defiant but divided Catalan Parliament, the central government on Saturday began to assert control over Catalonia, firing the region’s president, ministers, diplomats and police chiefs and transferring all authority to Madrid.

Since then, the secessionist leaders have been mostly absent from the public stage — not exactly in hiding, but close.

Puigdemont on Saturday issued a brief, prerecorded call for citizens to mount “a democratic opposition” to the takeover. No one was exactly sure what he meant.

On Sunday, the Belgian migration minister offered Puigdemont political asylum — if he needs it.

Two top leaders of the Catalan secessionist movement are already in jail, without bail, as prosecutors mull sedition charges.

The Spanish newspaper El Periódico reported that Spain’s Interior Ministry on Sunday ordered the Catalan regional police stations to take down their portraits of Puigdemont.

The next showdown is scheduled for Monday morning, when bureaucrats return to work and the doors open to the Catalan government and Parliament.

Will Puigdemont and his ministers return to work — or try to run a parallel government?

Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president dismissed by the government of Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, warned in a regional publication that in coming days the independence movement “will have to make difficult decisions that will not always be easy to understand.”

After being awarded sweeping powers by the Spanish Senate last week, the central government, in the early-morning hours Saturday, published lists of more than 140 Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired.

The Catalan Parliament was also dissolved by order of Spain, and new elections were scheduled for Dec. 21.

Reuters quoted Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, a government spokesman in Madrid, saying, “If Puigdemont takes part in these elections, he can exercise this democratic opposition.”

On Sunday, the streets in Barcelona belonged to pro-unity, pro-Spain voices.

Javier Rodriguez, 55, a banker said, “This is a big day, a day for the real Spain. They told us we weren’t Spain. We are, today and always.”

Asked what he thought of a declaration of a Catalan republic,  he shook his head no. “This was a big fake. This republic is over, it is definitely over.”

As he spoke, helicopters circled above, each with the marking of a different force — the national police, the Guardia Civil and the regional Catalan police, Mossos d’Esquadra.

Manuel Garcia, 64, who served in Spain’s foreign legion and as manger of the locker rooms of Barcelona’s RCD Espanyol soccer team, said, “We came out to support the Spanish government against this secessionist coup. What should happen to Puigdemont?”

“All of them should be in jail,” he said.

“They’ve been brainwashing them, in the schools and universities, for 36 years, to hate against Spain,” said Manuel Requena, 77, a pensioner, of the Catalan secessionists.

Requena said Spain has been good for Catalonia, especially during the decades of the Francisco Franco dictatorship, from 1939 to 1975.

“Catalonia grew under Franco,” he said. “Since democracy came, they’ve just been trying to pull down the country.”

Nuria Guixa, 42, an administrator, said, “We just want to live in a quiet peaceful way like we did before all this happened. Nobody wants a war or a big fight.”

She looked forward to December elections. “Now everybody will have the right to vote, in normal elections. You can vote pro-independence or for unity with Spain. Then we’ll see what people want.”

Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.

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