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Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Spain on Sunday to condemn Pedro Sánchez, as anger grows over the incumbent prime minister’s plan to offer Catalan separatists an amnesty to stay in power.
The conservative opposition has called for protests in 53 cities as Sánchez prepares to grant clemency to people involved in an illegal Catalan independence bid in 2017.
Addressing protesters in 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 with insults like “Sánchez traitor,” Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the conservative leader of the Madrid region, said the prime minister had decided “he will not lose power, no matter what it costs for Spain.”
Anger on the streets is adding to concerns about serious outbreaks of public unrest next week, when the proposed amnesty law is expected to be published. Sánchez’s Socialist Party then has until November 27 to call a parliamentary vote to appoint him prime minister for another four years.
In a speech on Saturday, Sánchez accused the PP of “embracing” the ultra-right as it fueled the amnesty controversy and “moving towards the abyss.”
Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, called the amnesty deal a “coup” and said there should be “no restraint” in responding to it. “No calm or tolerance in the face of the coup,” he told demonstrators in Madrid. “Total and lasting mobilization.”
For the 10th straight day, crowds gathered outside the Socialists’ headquarters in Madrid, where a hardened group of protesters throwing flares and bottles clashed several times with police. They were condemned by non-violent demonstrators.
According to the central government, 80,000 people gathered in Madrid on Sunday, including 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.
After inconclusive parliamentary elections in July, the socialist pact with separatists, including the hardline Together for Catalonia party, will allow Sánchez to achieve the 176-seat majority he needs in Spain’s House of Representatives.
Sánchez says the agreement will defuse long-standing 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 said an amnesty would be “unacceptable.”
An amnesty law will end prosecutions, prison sentences or other punishments faced by hundreds of independence supporters and advocates who supported a Catalan attempt to break away from Spain six years ago. Their charges range from public order violations to misuse of public funds.
In a speech on Saturday in Málaga, Sánchez said he demanded “reason and moderation” from the PP. [and] to accept the results at the ballot box and the legitimacy of the government we will soon form in Spain.” He said the PP “should have the courage to say no to the strict embrace of the ultra-right and abandon the reactionary path on which they are to advance into the abyss.”
Many Spanish judges have condemned the amnesty proposal as violating the principle of equality before the law. A group of police officers said they were “ready to shed every drop of our blood” to defend the constitution, which they said was endangered by Sánchez’s plan.
According to polls, more than two thirds of Spaniards are against an amnesty.