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SPANISH POLITICS

Far-right Vox leads mass protests against Spain’s government

Tens of thousands of supporters from Spain's far-right Vox party demonstrated nationwide on Sunday to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's leftist government.

Far-right Vox leads mass protests against Spain's government
Supporters of far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal (unseen) gather during an anti-government protest in Madrid, on November 27, 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Police said 25,000 people gathered in central Madrid’s Colon Square, where protesters unfurled flags and called on Sánchez to go, while demonstrations also took place in cities across Spain.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced a “government of treason, insecurity and ruin” after recent changes to the criminal code and the approval of a new law against sexual violence.

READ MORE: Why Spain’s right is vehemently opposed to changes to sedition law

He lambasted the planned abolition of the crime of sedition, of which nine separatist leaders were convicted over their role in the Catalonia region’s abortive secession bid in 2017. An offence carrying a lower prison sentence will replace it.

“We have a government that governs against the people, lowers prison sentences for crimes, disarms the police,” Abascal told his followers in the Spanish capital.

The right believes the modified criminal code, which should be in place by the end of the year, will encourage further attempts to separate the northeastern Catalonia region from Spain.

“We are being governed by separatists, people who don’t want to be Spanish, that’s why I’m here,” said protester Cesar Peinado, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, accusing the government of “buying votes”.

Abascal said sexual assaults had doubled since Socialist premier Sánchez took power in 2018 and denounced a law he claimed allowed rapists and paedophiles to leave prison earlier.

READ MORE: Why is Spain reducing prison sentences for rapists?

He was referring to a flagship government law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes, setting some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Supporters of far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal (unseen) hold a placard reading “liar, elections now” as they gather during an anti-government protest in Madrid, on November 27th 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

María Dolores López, 58, told AFP she could “no longer put up with what this government is doing”, citing its policy towards the Catalan separatists and its law against sexual violence.

“It isn’t a coincidence that there’s no security either,” Abascal added, denouncing “a crazy minister who makes a law with the approval of the entire government, the political and media left so that rapists and paedophiles end up on the streets”.

The ruling left-wing coalition has long drawn the ire of the right and far right for initiating a dialogue with Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders, with large protests taking place in 2019 and 2021 over the talks.

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sánchez’s government has been forced since its formation to negotiate with Basque and Catalan separatists to pass bills.

The coalition says sedition is an antiquated offence that should be replaced with one better aligned to European norms.

The nine Catalan separatists initially sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison under the sedition law were pardoned last year, also infuriating the right.

The failed independence bid sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

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SPANISH POLITICS

Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Saturday against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government in a rally held in a key election year that was backed by far-right party Vox.

Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Participants waved red and yellow Spanish flags and called on Sanchez to resign. Some held up signs with a photo of the Socialist premier calling him a “traitor”.

Around 30,000 people gathered in Madrid’s Cibeles Square for the rally, according to the central government’s delegation in the Spanish capital. Organisers said some 700,000 people had taken part.

The protest was called by dozens of right-leaning civil society groups and backed by conservative parties including the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) and Vox.

The right is 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 abortive secession bid in 2017. It was replaced with an offence carrying a lower prison sentence.

READ MORE: Spain drops sedition charge against ex-Catalan leader

Conservatives are also angered by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Speaking to reporters at the start of the rally, Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced “the worst government in history” which “has divided Spaniards and freed rapists and coup leaders”.

“We need a permanent and massive mobilisation until the autocrat Pedro Sanchez is expelled from power,” he added.

Conservative poll edge 

Retired accountant Antonio Orduna, 67, told AFP said he was upset the government was “letting those who want to break up Spain off the hook.”

He cited the abolishment of the crime of sedition and Sanchez’s 2021 decision to pardon the Catalan separatists initially sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the failed secession bid.

Madrid protests

A protestor holds a Spanish national flag as they gather during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Catalonia’s attempt to become an independent state sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who has tried to push the party to the centre since becoming its leader in April, was not at the rally but encouraged members for the formation 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. Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

One of the main dilemmas facing Feijoo is whether to continue pursuing political alliances with Vox as it has in some region or to freeze them out to try to widen the PP’s base.

Vox splintered off from the PP in 2013 and is now the third-largest force in parliament.

‘Before the abyss’

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sanchez’s government has been forced since its formation to negotiate with Basque and Catalan separatists to pass bills, which has angered many on the right.

Conservatives accuse Sanchez of having eliminated the crime of sedition to assure the continued support of Catalan pro-independence party ERC in tight parliamentary votes.

“All he cares about is remaining in power,” said Rosa Torosio, a 44-year-old housewife at the rally.

Spain protest

Protesters wave Spanish national flags during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

The government argues sedition is an antiquated offence that needed to be replaced with one better aligned to European norms.

Sanchez defended his record, telling a Socialist party rally in the northern city of Valladolid on Saturday his government had to take steps to defuse the conflict in Catalonia.

The separatist bid which happened under the watch of the previous PP government had left Spain standing “before the abyss,” he added.

Sanchez also recalled that his government has ramped up social spending to help Spaniards deal with high inflation, for example by increasing pensions and civil servant salaries.

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