By Graham Keeley
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Waving Spanish and Catalan flags, tens of thousands of people marched through Barcelona on Sunday to protest against a potential amnesty deal which Spain’s Socialists must strike over Catalonia’s 2017 separatist bid if they want to form a government.
The protest, organised by the anti-separatist organisation Societat Civil Catalana, took place five days after Spain’s acting Socialist prime minister was nominated to seek backing of other political parties for a new mandate.
Pedro Sanchez needs the support of Catalan separatist parties Junts and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, which want the unpopular amnesty in exchange for votes in parliament.
Alberto Nunez Feijoo, leader of the opposition conservative People’s Party, and Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, attended the march which police said attracted 50,000 protesters.
“An amnesty would undermine the judiciary. An amnesty would put the government above democracy and the rule of law,” said Javier Tapia, 55, a chemicals worker.
Holding a sign which said “Spain for Sale”, Isabel Martinez said: “We cannot allow an amnesty because not all Catalans believe that these (separatists) should be pardoned. They want to live in conflict forever but we want to live in peace.”
AMNESTY WOULD BENEFIT HUNDREDS
Sanchez has defended his conciliatory policy with Catalonia, including a 2021 pardon to nine jailed leaders, and said the 2017 crisis “brought nothing good”.
“This is not an amnesty that seeks reconciliation. The only thing it seeks is to make (Sanchez) the president of the government,” Feijoo told the rally on Sunday.
The amnesty could potentially cover more than 1,400 people involved in the independence bid that came to a head in 2017, pro-separatist Catalan group Omnium estimates. These are a mix of people in jail and facing charges.
That would be the largest in Spain since the 1977 blanket amnesty for crimes committed during the Francisco Franco dictatorship, and the first amnesty law approved in the European Union since 1991, according to Spain’s CSIC research council.
Around 70% of respondents – 59% of them Socialist supporters – said they were against the idea of an amnesty in a poll in mid-September.
If no candidate for prime minister secures a majority by Nov. 27, a repeat election has to be called.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Joan Faus, Horaci Garcia, Guillermo Martinez; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)