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Spain PM strikes key deal with Catalan separatists: source

09 November 2023

Barcelona (AFP) -

Spain's prime minister has clinched agreement with Catalan separatists, a source told AFP on Thursday, in a deal that will enable him to remain in power but that has raised tensions and sparked protests in the country.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists finished second in the July 23 parliamentary elections and he has until November 27 to cobble together a working coalition, or face fresh elections.

Sanchez needs the support of Catalan independence parties, and has accepted their demands to offer amnesty to all those being pursued for their role in a failed secession attempt in 2017.

He has proposed a highly controversial bill that would grant amnesty.

In response, conservative opposition parties and members of Spain's judiciary have stepped up criticism, with some accusing Sanchez of corruption and abandoning the rule of law.

The proposed bill has sparked several days of tense protests in the country this week, with thousands rallying against it in the capital Madrid.

On Thursday a source with knowledge of the negotiations between the Socialists and the Catalan parties said that an agreement had been clinched and that details would be presented later in the day in Brussels.

Brussels is currently the base of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who left Spain for Belgium following the failed secession bid to avoid prosecution.

- Protests -

The proposed amnesty bill sparked several nights of demonstrations this week.

Nearly 7,000 protesters gathered on Tuesday, according to authorities, carrying placards emblazoned with the words 'No to amnesty' and 'Spain does not pay traitors', TV images showed.

On Monday evening, several thousand demonstrators had gathered outside the headquarters of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

On Saturday, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP), said at a meeting that 'exchanging votes for impunity is corruption' and vowed at a rally in Valencia a day later: 'We will defend Spain.'

Feijoo's PP finished first in the July parliamentary elections but failed to form a coalition.

The opposition accuses Sanchez, who once opposed amnesty, to be willing to do anything to stay in power.

Sanchez has remained defiant in the face of the demonstrations.

In a message on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday he criticised 'harassment' by the protesters and said their behaviour was akin to 'attacking democracy'.

- Judiciary concerns -

Members of the judiciary have also stepped up their criticism.

The Professional Association of Magistrates, a conservative body that represents the majority of the country's judges, last week issued a statement calling the measures 'the beginning of the end of democracy' that would 'destroy the rule of law'.

After a failed Catalan secession attempt in 2017, hundreds of people were pursued by Spanish prosecutors, sparking claims of repression.

The main leaders of the movement fled abroad, including Puigdemont, or were given jail sentences of up to 13 years.

Sanchez was elected to power just a month after the secession attempt, with the support of separatists. He has made reducing tensions in Catalonia a priority.

In 2021, he pardoned the nine jailed separatists and the following year his government reformed the Spanish legal code to remove the crime of sedition, under which they had been condemned.