Thousands protest in Spain against amnesty for Catalan separatists

People, holding Spanish flags, attend a demonstration called by the Freedom and Alternative Forum against the Spanish government's amnesty law for people who participated in the failed independence attempt of Catalonia in 2017. Luis Soto/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
People, holding Spanish flags, attend a demonstration called by the Freedom and Alternative Forum against the Spanish government's amnesty law for people who participated in the failed independence attempt of Catalonia in 2017. Luis Soto/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Thousands of people have once again taken to the streets of Madrid to protest a controverisal plan to give Catalan separatists amnesty.

Police estimates put the number of demonstrators in Cibeles Square in Madrid at 15,000, while organizers said there were 400,000 participants.

Members of opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo's People's Party (PP) and the right-wing populist Vox also joined the protest. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and chanted "Sánchez traitor" and "Sánchez in prison."

An initial bill by the left-wing Sanchez government was rejected by the lower house of parliament at the end of January.

Not only did the conservative and right-wing populist opposition vote against that bill, but also the Catalan Junts party of former regional government leader Carles Puigdemont.

The Junts was concerned that the amnesty would not protect all separatists prosecuted by the judiciary from punishment.

On Wednesday, however, the parliamentary justice committee approved an amended draft for the amnesty, which was also accepted by Junts.

The new version of the law is to be discussed and voted on for the first time in the lower house of parliament on Thursday. However, the parliamentary process is likely to take months.

Sánchez had promised the "Catalanistas" the amnesty in order to secure the votes of two separatist parties for his re-election in the lower house in Madrid in autumn 2023.

Feijóo described the plan as a "national disgrace and international embarrassment." The opposition to the law is intended to "save" the endangered democracy in Spain, he asserted.

The liberal Junts party of Puigdemont, who has been living in exile in Belgium since the failed separation attempt in autumn 2017, and the left-wing ERC of Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès both want Catalonia to secede from Spain.

Sánchez wants to defuse the conflict through dialogue and concessions.

A woman carries a sign with the face of Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain, during a demonstration called by the Freedom and Alternative Forum against the Spanish government's amnesty law for people who participated in the failed independence attempt of Catalonia in 2017. Luis Soto/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
A woman carries a sign with the face of Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain, during a demonstration called by the Freedom and Alternative Forum against the Spanish government's amnesty law for people who participated in the failed independence attempt of Catalonia in 2017. Luis Soto/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice-President of the European Parliament from 1999-2014, speaks during a rally calling for the resignation of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in the Plaza de Cibeles. Mateo Lanzuela/EUROPA PRESS/dpa
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice-President of the European Parliament from 1999-2014, speaks during a rally calling for the resignation of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in the Plaza de Cibeles. Mateo Lanzuela/EUROPA PRESS/dpa