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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
Protesters hold a sign reading "The traitor - liar Sanchez is doing a coup!" and wave Spanish national flags as they gather during an anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

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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PROTESTS

30,000 marchers demand end to healthcare cuts in Madrid

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Madrid on Sunday to demand an end to the cutbacks and privatisation affecting the region's crisis-hit public healthcare services.

30,000 marchers demand end to healthcare cuts in Madrid

Banging drums and chanting slogans, the protesters packed the main boulevard running past the city’s El Prado museum as part of a so-called Marea Blanca, or ‘white tide’ demonstration that drew 30,000 people, according to a regional government spokesman.

Primary care services in the Madrid area have been under huge pressure for years due to a lack of resources and staff, forcing more people to turn to hospital emergency departments which are now overwhelmed with patients in a situation with echoes across Spain.

This week, the SEMES emergency service workers association said Madrid’s A&E departments had seen a “10 to 20 percent” increase in patients while the ADSP, which also represents health professionals in Madrid, said 300 people were waiting in corridors for a bed.

READ ALSO: Thousands rally in defence of Madrid public healthcare

At the march, dozens of people held up a huge banner reading: “No to cuts and privatisation and yes to healthcare and public services”. Others held up placards demanding the resignation of the region’s right-wing leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso and saying “Healthcare cuts are a criminal act”.

“The situation in Madrid is unsustainable due to the intentional neglect and privatisation policies implemented by Ayuso and her government, the results of which can be clearly seen in the current state of emergency departments,” the ADSP this week, urging people to join the march.

“We cannot continue with an insufficient number of hospital beds, which is worsening every year with the reduction of beds in public centres and the diversion of public money to private centres.”

READ ALSO: Why the public health system in Spain’s capital is on the brink

The demonstration comes amid a wave of strikes over public healthcare shortages across Spain, with strike action planned or threatened in at least eight of its 17 regions.

In Madrid, primary care doctors and paediatricians resumed an indefinite strike on Thursday that began on November 21 but was suspended a month later for the Christmas break.

The Amyts doctors’ union said it was resuming the strike after talks with the regional healthcare ministry failed.

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