Spain PM slammed at massive Madrid protest against Catalan talks

Leroy Wright
February 12, 2019

Thousands attend Madrid demo against Catalan independence.

The rally was called by opposition center-right and right-wing parties, following the efforts of the government, led by Socialist PM Pedro Sanchez, to establish a dialog with Catalan separatists.

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls, who was born in Barcelona and is running for mayor of Spain's second largest city, and Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel Prize-winning author who became a Spanish citizen in the 1990s and has spoken out in favour of conservative Spanish causes, were among those who attended the Madrid protest.

The protest attracted an estimated 45,000 people and was led by the leaders of the centrist Ciudadanos, the conservative Popular Party, and far-right Vox.

Mariano Rajoy, who was Spanish prime minister at the time of the independence vote and its aftermath, will be among the witnesses.

Sunday's protest comes as 12 jailed Catalan leaders prepare to go on trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Tuesday.

Spain will hold municipal, regional and European Parliament elections in May. Rajoy proved incapable of stopping support for secession from swelling in Catalonia to roughly half of the region's voters.

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They called the rally after Sanchez's government last week accepted the presence - as asked by Catalan separatists - of an independent "rapporteur" in future talks between Catalan parties.

"The unity of Spain means uniting Spaniards and not confronting them as the right wing is doing in Plaza de Colon today", he said. He met twice with Catalan chief Quim Torra.

Mr Sanchez had said he would be willing to help Catalan politicians agree to a new Charter Law, which determines the amount of self-rule the region enjoys.

Mr Sanchez is trying to cobble together support to pass a national budget and will need votes from the Catalan separatists to pass it.

Even though Sanchez has said he wants to see out the legislative term through 2020, a failure to win a budget vote will crank up the pressure on him to call for an early election.

The government is squeezed on both sides of the Catalan issue: Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday talks were on track to fail because Catalan pro-independence groups had rejected the government's proposed framework.

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