President of Madrid accuses government of moving toward ‘totalitarianism’
Hundreds of thousands of protesters filled city streets across Spain on Sunday in a protest against granting amnesty to Catalan separatists.
Spain’s conservative Popular Party called the protests days before Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is expected to form a functioning government with the backing of regionalist parties.
“His project is totalitarianism,” President of the Region of Madrid Isabel Ayuso said to the massive crowd in Madrid’s central plaza, referring to the prime minister. “He has decided that he will not lose power, no matter the cost.”
Government authorities estimate that 80,000 people turned up in Madrid, while the Popular Party puts the figure at around 500,000. There, Popular Party leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo also gave a speech, calling for fresh elections.
“Today we are protesting so that they don’t rob our democracy or our state of law,” said Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida.
In Andalucia, an estimated 146,000 protested in various cities. Tens of thousands more gathered in Valencia, Alicante, Santander, Barcelona, Caceres and the Canary Islands.
Besides Sunday’s more mainstream protests, thousands have been taking to the street each night in front of Socialist Party headquarters. In Madrid, the protesters have reportedly used fascist slogans, racist chants and ended up clashing with police on several occasions.
While many of the protesters, including the leader of the far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal, accuse Sanchez of committing a “coup d’etat,” voters of the left say the language is overblown and dangerous.
In Spain, voters went to the polls in July. The result was that neither the left-wing bloc nor the right-wing bloc won the majority needed to form a government. Regionalist parties, including Catalan separatists, emerged as kingmakers.
After months of negotiations, Sanchez’s Socialist Party agreed to pass a law to drop criminal charges against Catalan separatists involved in the independence movement.
The amnesty does not change the law moving forward, but it will mean that Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president, who has been exiled in Brussels since 2017, will be able to return to Spain without being arrested. He currently faces charges like sedition and the misappropriation of funds for trying to break Catalonia away from Spain.
The Socialists say the deal is a “historic opportunity” to reopen dialogue with Catalonia and bring a political end to a political problem.
If Sanchez had been unable to negotiate successfully, Spain would have had to face fresh elections.
The latest opinion polls show that while the left-wing bloc has lost some support, the results of repeat elections would be similar to July’s, with the majority hinging on the support of regionalist parties.