Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Sunday against plans to grant amnesty to Catalan separatists at a rally organised by the far-right Vox party.
The controversial amnesty issue arose after the general election in July, as a result of which incumbent Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez needs the support of the Catalan separatist parties ERC and JxCat in parliament to be sworn in for another term.
In return, both parties are demanding amnesty for hundreds of people facing legal action over their often minor roles in Catalonia’s failed 2017 bid for independence, which triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Many in the crowd were angry that the amnesty could benefit JxCat leader Carles Puigdemont, who led the northeastern region’s government in 2017 when he made a short-lived declaration of independence for Catalonia after a violence-marred referendum banned by Madrid.
Many Spaniards consider Puigdemont, who fled to avoid prosecution shortly afterwards and now lives in Belgium, an enemy of the state.
“Puigdemont to jail!” the demonstrators shouted.
Sánchez, who has tried to calm separatist tensions since he came to power five years ago, pardoned Catalan separatist leaders serving long prison sentences for attempting to break away in 2021.
He defended the need for amnesty in a speech to leading members of the Socialist Party, saying that the 2021 pardon “undoubtedly” defused the conflict over Catalan separatism, even if the right wing had taken it extremely aggressively.
“The final resolution of the conflict will require other measures in the future, as we cannot leave this wound open indefinitely,” Sánchez stated.
Sanchez needs the support of 33 lower house MPs from the Sumar party, as well as other parties, including those in favour of Catalan and Basque independence, in his bid to extend his term as prime minister.
If the Socialists and pro-independence Catalan parties fail to reach a deal, the country will go to new elections in January. In these elections, the Spaniards could give the coalition of centrists and the far right the absolute majority they lacked in the last vote on 23 July.