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Spain: Thousands stage anti-government protest in Madrid

  • January 21, 2023

Tens of thousands of people packed into central Madrid on Saturday against the left-wing government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The protest, called by dozens of right-leaning civil society groups and backed by the center-right Popular Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party, came in a key election year for Spain.

The central government said around 30,000 people gathered at Madrid’s Cibeles Square, while organizers said some 700,000 people attended.

Sanchez labeled a ‘traitor’

The demonstrators waved Spanish flags and chanted “Sanchez, resign!” or “traitor!” as they denounced the government.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal told the crowd the government had “trampled the constitution by locking up Spaniards,” in reference to COVID lockdowns, which were initially among the harshest in the world.

Speaking to reporters, Abascal denounced “the worst government in history” that “has divided Spaniards and freed rapists and coup leaders.”

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sanchez has been forced to negotiate with Catalan and Basque separatists to pass bills.

The right was angered by the government’s decision to abolish the crime of sedition, of which nine separatist leaders were convicted over their role in the Catalonia region’s failed independence bid in 2017.

In June 2021, Sanchez’s government pardoned the nine “in the spirit of dialogue.”

Conservatives accuse Sanchez of having changed the law to ensure the continued support of the Catalan pro-independence party ERC in tight parliamentary votes.

The government argues that sedition is an antiquated offense that needed to replacing with one better aligned with European norms.

People gather at the Plaza de Cibeles to stage a protest against the Spanish government in Madrid, Spain on January 21, 2023
Months ahead of national elections, polls suggest the right-wing Popular Party will win but will need the support of the far-right Vox partyImage: Burak Akbulut/AA/picture alliance

The early release of convicted terrorists from the now-disbanded Basque separatist group, ETA has also been a contentious issue.

During its campaign of terror between 1968 and 2010, ETA killed 829 people and injured thousands more.

More than 260 former members of the group are in prison in Spain, France, and other countries.

Vox politicians claim they’ve been allowed out “through the back door” as some prisoners were allowed to be transferred to jails closer to home.

When ETA’s name was mentioned during the protest, shouts of “murderers” could be heard, according to the EFE news agency.

Conservatives are also angered by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who has tried to push the party to the center since becoming its leader in April, was not at the rally but encouraged members to attend.

Most polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected at the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern.

Spaniards are also due to vote in regional and local elections in May.

mm/sms (AFP, EFE, Reuters)

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