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Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Spain on Sunday to condemn Pedro Sánchez as anger mounts over the acting prime minister’s plan to offer an amnesty to Catalan separatists in order to stay in power.
The conservative opposition convened protests in 53 cities as Sánchez prepares to grant clemency to people involved in an unlawful 2017 push for Catalan independence, a deal that will deliver him the parliamentary votes he needs for another term.
Addressing protesters thronging central Madrid, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the opposition People’s party, accused Sánchez of buying the premiership with the “judicial impunity” of his Catalan allies
“We will not shut up until there are elections,” Núñez Feijóo said.
Facing banners carrying insults including “Sánchez traitor”, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the conservative head of the Madrid region, said the prime minister had decided “he will not lose power, whatever the cost for Spain”.
The anger on the streets is heightening concern about serious outbreaks of public disorder next week, when the proposed amnesty law is likely to be published. Sánchez’s Socialist party then has until November 27 to call a parliamentary vote to make him prime minister for another four years.
In a speech on Saturday, Sánchez accused the PP of “bear hugging” the ultra-right as it fired the amnesty controversy and of “advancing towards the abyss”.
Santiago Abascal, leader of the hard-right Vox party, called the amnesty deal a “coup d’etat” and said there should be “no restraint” in the response to it. “No calm or tolerance in the face of the coup,” he told demonstrators in Madrid. “Total and permanent mobilisation.”
For the tenth consecutive day, crowds massed outside Socialist headquarters in Madrid, where a hardcore group of protesters throwing flares and bottles have clashed with police several times. They have been condemned by non-violent demonstrators.
The central government said that 80,000 people gathered in Madrid on Sunday, with 40,000 in Seville, 30,000 in both Málaga and Granada, and more than 20,000 in Valencia. The PP estimated larger numbers — including 500,000 in Madrid.
Following an inconclusive July general election, the Socialist pact with separatists, including the hardline Together for Catalonia party, will enable Sánchez to reach the 176-seat majority he needs in Spain’s Congress of Deputies.
Sánchez says the deal will defuse long-running tensions over Catalonia and shift the conflict over the region’s status back into the realm of politics and away from the judiciary. But before the election Sánchez had said an amnesty would be “unacceptable”.
An amnesty law will end the prosecution, prison terms or other penalties facing hundreds of pro-independence leaders and supporters who backed a Catalan bid to break away from Spain six years ago. Their charges range from public order offences to the misuse of public funds.
Speaking in Málaga on Saturday, Sánchez said he was asking the PP “for sanity and moderation [and] to accept the results at the ballot box and the legitimacy of the government that we will soon form in Spain”. He said the PP “should have the courage to say no to the bear hug of the ultra-right and to abandon the reactionary path along which they are advancing towards the abyss”.
A large number of Spanish judges have condemned the amnesty proposal for trashing the principle of equality before the law. One group of police officers said they were “ready to shed every last drop of our blood” to defend the constitution, which they said was threatened by Sánchez’s plan.
Polling has suggested more than two-thirds of Spaniards are opposed to an amnesty.
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