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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Spaniards chant 'No Fear' in defiant memorial to the dead of Las Ramblas

King and prime minister lead the tributes close to the scene of the terrorist attack that left 13 people dead

After the silence, came the applause and then the chants of ‘No Fear’.

Thousands of people – led by the prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Spain’s King Felipe VI – joined an emotional and defiant commemoration at the Placa de Catalunya where 20 hours earlier, Islamist militants began their deadly assault on the city.

The square is at the top end of Las Ramblas where a van was driven at high speed weaving from side to side crashing into stalls and mowing down pedestrians leaving 13 dead and dozens more injured.

Under perfectly blue skies, thousands returned on Friday to pay tribute to those who had died. Office workers filled the open windows of buildings around the square.

They started arriving for more than an hour before the noon commemoration was due to start after police warned them to leave their bags behind amid tightened security following the attack and a second a few hours later at the coastal town of Cambrils to the south. Armed police patrolled the square and bags were searched by the police.

Some brought flowers as tributes, others held aloft signs of their defiance of the threat of terror.

“Why am I here?” one woman asked? “Because we will never give in to terror.”

Others voiced similar sentiments: “We must continue to live our lives as we choose to, we cannot surrender to terror,” a middle-aged resident said.

When the prime minister and king arrived, the crowd burst into spontaneous applause and cries of bravo echoed around the square. As they held a minute’s silence, security staff behind the king and prime minister scanned the crowd in a sign of the continuing concern about further potential attacks, with at least one attacker still on the run.

Men hugged in the crowd, some silently weeping at the raw emotion of the event. Spanish flags - not always a welcome sight in Catalonia - were waved aloft along with signs celebrating Barcelona.

As the event broke up and the chanting died away, large groups remained in the square that rippled with applause.

Many moved on to La Ramblas, where they streamed down the promenade and struck up again with chants of ‘No Fear’ and their defiant message to terrorism.

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