- Thousands of protesters gather in Madrid’s Columbus Square on Sunday, February 10.
- The massive protest was called by Spanish opposition parties,
- Protesters defy Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s approach for negotiations with the Catalan Government on self-determination.
The protesters demonstrated in Madrid against Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s proposed talks to ease political tensions in Catalonia. It was organised by centre-right and far-right opposition parties.
Demonstrators waving Spanish flags filled the Plaza de Colon in the city centre in the largest protest Sanchez has faced, with their slogan “For a united Spain, elections now!” a grim reminder of the mounting pressure on his minority government.
The Socialist government’s proposal last Tuesday to appoint a rapporteur in talks among political parties to address the Catalan independence crisis mobilised the opposition. It views the situation as a betrayal and a surrender to pressure from Catalan separatists.
In two days time, the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders will begin. They are accused of a failed secession bid from Spain in 2017. They face up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.
The opposition see here an opportunity and has called for early elections.
Sanchez has replaced a conservative government in June last year. He holds just a quarter of the seats in parliament and relies mainly on support from anti-austerity party Podemos, Catalan nationalists and other small parties to pass legislations.
The government faces a key vote next Wednesday on its 2019 budget proposal. This is bound because the Catalan parties will not support. Those parties have clarified that their vote for the budget will be conditional on the Catalan talks including the issue of independence. The government may not oblige on this.
Failure by parliament to approve the budget bill could lead to elections before the next scheduled vote in 2020.
Recent opinion polls have predicted that the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox could win a majority of seats in parliament if elections were held. This will allow them to replace the present incumbent Socialist government.
Centre-right wing parties Popular Party and Ciudadanos had organised today’s protest, and the newly emerged far-right party Vox also stayed active.
“The government is giving many things to supporters of Catalan independence and is going to break Spain apart,” said Raquel García, 76, one of the thousands of protesters carrying a Spanish flag, echoing the popular sentiment.
The government is thus caught from two sides on the Catalan issue. Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday that the talks were bound to fail because Catalan pro-independence groups did not accept government’s proposed framework. They want a referendum on independence included on the agenda, which the government is not willing to agree.