Spain PM offers amnesty to Catalan separatists in controversial deal
09 November 2023
Brussels (AFP) -
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has clinched a controversial deal to remain in power by offering amnesty to Catalan separatists, raising tensions across the country.
The accord is aimed at 'giving stability to the four-year legislature,' Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) official Santos Cerdan told a news conference in Brussels Thursday after negotiations with Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who is based there.
Sanchez's PSOE finished second in the July 23 parliamentary elections. After the first-place centre-right Popular Party (PP) failed to form a government, Sanchez was given 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.
Thursday's accord also calls for opening negotiations on the question of 'recognising Catalonia as a nation.' Puigdemont, speaking to the press Thursday in Brussels, hailed the accord as a 'new step' that will contribute a 'resolution of the political conflict in Catalonia.' But he warned that the new coalition will only last if Thursday's accord is respected and the negotiations produce results.
Sanchez had already secured the backing of more moderate Catalan separatist parties -- as well as far-left and Basque parties -- but only on Thursday did he nail down the support of Puigdemont's more radical Junts per Catalunya, or JxCat.
The amnesty law would cover events back to 2012, Cerdan said. It needs to be approved by parliament to take effect, though eventually would allow Puigdemont to return.
Puigdemont is currently based in Brussels, having left Spain for Belgium following the failed secession bid to avoid prosecution.
In recent days, conservative opposition parties and members of Spain's judiciary have stepped up criticism of the amnesty plan, 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, with 7,000 rallying against it in the capital Madrid Tuesday, according to authorities.
- Protests -
Protesters in Madrid carried placards emblazoned with the words 'No to amnesty' and 'Spain does not pay traitors'.
On Monday evening, several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.
On Saturday, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the 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.'
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 convicted.