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Madrid Protests Sanchez’s Approach to Catalan Separatists

A conservative-led protest against Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez was held on Sunday in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon. A group of 45,000 demonstrators shouting “Spain” and “We want to vote” united in favor of early elections ahead of the July 2020 date. The protest, organized by leaders of the newly-formed far-right party Vox, the center-right party Ciudadanos (citizens), and the conservative Popular Party (PP), criticized Sanchez for submitting to mounting pressure from Catalan separatist groups.

Thousands of citizens gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon on Sunday to protest Sanchez’s approach to the Catalan independence crisis. Photo:  Reuters

Thousands of citizens gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon on Sunday to protest Sanchez’s approach to the Catalan independence crisis. Photo: Reuters

The Catalan independence crisis began in October 2017 with a referendum, which was ruled illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, in which 90 percent of voters backed independence but only 43 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote. Catalan separatists in parliament declared independence on Oct. 27, 2017 and were subsequently sacked by the Spanish government. Spain called for a regional election that December which was won by nationalist parties. Catalonia has remained in political deadlock since.

Protestors disapprove of Sanchez’s acceptance of 21 demands from pro-independence groups and a  government proposal to assign a correspondent to Catalan crisis negotiations among political parties. Conservative groups accuse Sanchez of betrayal, even though the central government terminated talks with separatists who wanted to discuss the current independence bid ahead of the planned inter-party talks.

The protest was led by the newly-formed far-right party Vox, the center-right party Ciudadanos (citizens), and the conservative Popular Party (PP). Photo:  AFP

The protest was led by the newly-formed far-right party Vox, the center-right party Ciudadanos (citizens), and the conservative Popular Party (PP). Photo: AFP

According to protestor Mabel Campuzano, Sanchez is “betraying Spain and we think the Spaniards don’t deserve him as the president of the government.” Popular Party leader Pablo Casado declared before the rally: “The government of Sanchez’s time is up.”

The three conservative parties responsible for the Madrid protest ended 36 years of Socialist governance in the southwestern Andalusia region after winning a combined majority in December 2018.

The protest came two days ahead of the beginning of Tuesday’s trial of the 12 separatists answerable for the failed Catalan independence attempt in 2017. The defendants, who include activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, are accused of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds and may face up to 25 years in prison.

The public proceedings are being broadcast on television from Spain’s supreme court and are expected to last 3 months. Catalan separatists condemned the “political trial” that they say demonstrates Spain’s ability to restrain “fundamental rights” in order to maintain its territory.

While the conservative-led protest ensued Sunday in Madrid, Sanchez spoke at a separate rally in Santander, declaring that “the government works for the unity of Spain and that means to unify Spaniards and not to put one against the other as the right is doing today in Colon Square.”

The conservative coalition does not see room for negotiation with Catalan separatists, however, and will continue to demand that Sanchez deny the separatists’ demands. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, in a press conference Monday, proposed that another rally be held in Barcelona this coming Sunday due to the rally’s “success” in Madrid.