Under a blazing sun, a tide of red and gold flags flooded Piazza Colon and the adjacent streets in central Madrid on Sunday, June 13. “Sanchez resignation”, “No to graces”, “it is not magnanimity, it is a betrayal” : behind these slogans, thousands of people – nearly 25,000 according to the national police, 125,000 according to the municipal police – expressed their anger against the pardons that the socialist government of Pedro Sanchez intends to grant to the nine Catalan independence leaders convicted in 2019 for sedition to sentences ranging from 9 to 13 years in prison, following the brief attempt at a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017.
“What they have done is nothing less than a coup d’etat, and that cannot be forgiven: we must defend order and respect for the law”, says Maria, a 53-year-old lawyer who came with her 20-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son, who each wear a Spanish flag on their backs like a cape. “There are enough of this government and the blackmail of the separatists: that they serve their sentence”, adds Fran Pinilla, 25-year-old insurance agent. “If he grants pardons, Sanchez will go down in history as the greatest traitor in the history of Spain”, concludes José Maria Gomez, 70, who holds up a sign against the chief executive.
An unpopular decision
Nearly 61% of Spaniards are said to be opposed to the government’s pardons plan, according to a poll published in the conservative daily The world June 7. Even among Socialist voters, more than 52% would oppose it. An electoral cost that Mr. Sanchez seems ready to assume. “The cost would be to leave things as they are: encysted”, he said on May 31.
For weeks, the question of pardons requests – filed last year by lawyers and associations close to the separatists imprisoned with the government – has monopolized and ignited public debate in Spain. On May 25, Pedro Sanchez appealed to “Constitutional values” from “Concord and dialogue” and asked to put aside “Revenge and revenge”, to justify its initiative.
On the one hand, the government has decided to prepare the ground for a more than probable lifting of prison sentences, by wishing to start “A new stage”, “Heal wounds” and promote “living together” in Catalonia. On the other hand, the bloc opposition – the People’s Party (PP, right), the Ciudadanos Liberals and the far right Vox – accuses it of “Sell Spain to the separatists” to stay in power.
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