Thousands protest Spain’s Catalan separatist amnesty law

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Tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid on Saturday to denounce a proposed amnesty law for Catalan separatists and activists, which was key for the left-wing government to retain power.

Around 170,000 people, according to police, gathered in Plaza de Cibeles in the heart of the Spanish capital in response to a call by right-wing leaders opposed to the amnesty plan.

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Cries of “Sanchez, traitor”, “Sanchez in jail” and “Catalonia is Spain” were shouted by protesters of all ages who carried Spanish and other European flags distributed by the European People’s Party.

People take part in a protest as they block the road leading to Moncloa Palace, after Spain’s socialists reached a deal with the Catalan separatist Junts party for government support. (File photo: Reuters)
People take part in a protest as they block the road leading to Moncloa Palace, after Spain’s socialists reached a deal with the Catalan separatist Junts party for government support. (File photo: Reuters)

“What Pedro Sanchez wants is to cut Spain into pieces, to have the Basque country on one side and Catalonia on the other, and to say nothing happened,” said Maria Angeles Galan, a 65-year-old retiree from Madrid at the rally.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrate during a protest called by Foro Libertad y Alternativa (Freedom & Alternative forum) against an amnesty bill for people involved with Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, in Madrid on November 18, 2023. (AFP)
Tens of thousands of people demonstrate during a protest called by Foro Libertad y Alternativa (Freedom & Alternative forum) against an amnesty bill for people involved with Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, in Madrid on November 18, 2023. (AFP)

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in power since 2018, came second in July parliamentary elections behind right-wing leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, but managed to be reinstated after winning support from regionalist groups including Catalan pro-independence parties.

In exchange for their votes, which were essential for reaching a governing majority, Sanchez accepted several concessions including the adoption of the amnesty bill for separatist leaders and activists who were prosecuted for their involvement in Catalonia’s 2017 secession attempt.

“They know they don’t have the votes to do what they’re doing. That’s why we’re telling them with this demonstration,” Feijoo said, accusing Sanchez of pitting Spaniards “against each other”.

Also present at the demonstration was the leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, who called the law “as serious as a coup d’état”.

The two leaders did not attend the demonstration together.

Feijoo had attempted in September to be chosen as prime minister with the support of Abascal, but failed to win a majority in parliament.

“I think that the fight starts now,” said Mariana, a 51-year-old entrepreneur at the protest who did not want to give her surname, adding that “it’s a message to Europe”.

The leader of far-right party VOX, Santiago Abascal, attends a protest against an amnesty bill for people involved with Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, in Madrid on November 18, 2023. (AFP)
The leader of far-right party VOX, Santiago Abascal, attends a protest against an amnesty bill for people involved with Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, in Madrid on November 18, 2023. (AFP)

Earlier this month, Brussels called on Madrid for an explanation on the amnesty bill after saying it had “been contacted about the issue by a large number of citizens”.

Luis Garrido, 65, who called himself a “socialist but not a Sanchist”, said the prime minister should not have accepted “this price”.

“I don’t want Spain to sink” and be “divided in this way”, he said.

The crowd that gathered around midday dispersed peacefully after speeches were made.

Demonstrations have been held every day for the past two weeks in front of the Socialist Party headquarters in Madrid, some of which have turned violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.

With AFP

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