29th May 2024
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Thousands protest in central Madrid over government’s Catalan amnesty bill

Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Saturday, demanding the resignation of socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. They were protesting a controversial amnesty bill that the Spanish government reached an agreement on with Catalan independence parties this week.

Sánchez pledged last year to pass an amnesty exonerating activists and politicians prosecuted for their role in Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid — in exchange for crucial parliamentary support to continue as prime minister and for the PSOE to form a coalition government with the left-wing alliance of Sumar. In pledging the amnesty bill, Sánchez secured the support of the two main Catalan pro-independence parties, Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) – the latter being the party led by former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont (see ‘background to Catalan political conflict’ below).

Around 15,000 flocked to the Plaza Cibeles in the centre of Madrid on Saturday, waving Spanish flags and chanting ‘Sánchez resign’. 

Some carried a large banner depicting Sánchez with a Hitler moustache that said in English: ‘Spain is no longer a democracy. It’s beginning to be a dictatorship. SOS Europe.’

Civil groups called the protest, which was attended by representives from the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and far-right Vox parties, after the draft amnesty law was approved on Thursday by the parliament’s justice committee.

MPs had rejected a first amnesty bill in January, with JxCat MPs saying it did not protect all the relevant people, starting with exiled leader Puigdemont. MPs are now expected to vote on the amended bill in the Spanish Congress on Thursday 14 March. ALSO READ: ‘Junts per Catalunya’ vote against amnesty bill on grounds it doesn’t go far enough.

Sánchez’s PSOE party failed to secure a majority in the inconclusive general election in July and his fragile left-wing minority government needs support from other parties to pass legislation.

The PSOE, JxCat and ERC claim that the strengthened amnesty bill complies with ‘the constitution, the law and European jurisprudence’. But the PP and Vox say it is unconstitutional.

Sánchez defended the bill during a party meeting in the city of Bilbao and insisted it would ‘strengthen’ democracy. He said the bill would smooth ‘the path of reconciliation’ in Catalonia.

Meanwhile, Sánchez also announced that he would push Congress to recognise a Palestinian state before the end of his mandate in 2027.

‘We will do it because of moral conviction, because it’s a just cause, but also because it is the only way that two states — Israel and Palestine — can live together and co-exist in peace and security,’ he said.

Background to Catalan political conflict

Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.

In late 2022, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.

Carles Puigdemont had led the government of Catalonia when it staged the referendum banned by Madrid and the courts, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence. He then fled to Brussels to avoid prosecution in Spain, and is currently an MEP. 

Spain’s current PSOE-Sumar coalition government has introduced a controversial amnesty bill to parliament. Called the ‘Organic Amnesty Law for the Institutional, Political and Social Normalisation in Catalonia’, the bill to grant an amnesty to Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists facing legal action over their role in theOctober 2017 illegal referendum in Catalonia was pledged by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in order to secure the support of Catalan parties and remain in power.

Click here for all our reports related to Catalan independence.

ALSO READ: Spanish Supreme Court officially opens ‘terrorism’ investigation of Carles Puigdemont.

ALSO READ: Judges extend probes into Puigdemont’s alleged ‘Kremlin ties’ and ‘Tsunami terrorism’.

ALSO READ: Amnesty bill registered in Spanish Congress – full details.

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