Madrid protests: Thousands rally against Catalan pardons

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Tens of thousands of people have joined protests in the Spanish capital Madrid against controversial plans to pardon jailed Catalan separatists.

Leaders of Spain’s right-wing parties joined the demonstration against the pardoning of 12 separatists behind a failed independence attempt in 2017.

Protesters accuse the Socialist-led Spanish government of using the plan to shore up its political support.

But the government says the pardons will help calm tensions over Catalonia.

The semi-autonomous region’s drive for independence plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis in 40 years in 2017.

Nine Catalan separatist leaders were found guilty of sedition in 2019, linked to their role in an illegal independence referendum. Another three were found guilty of disobedience but not jailed.

The demonstrators see the pardons as a threat to national unity. Many waved red and yellow national flags as they gathered in Colón Square in central Madrid.

“We should stop this now because for a pardon you must show contrition, and the separatists will not show that,” one protester, Carlos Bandecha, told the Reuters news agency.

But Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has defended the move as a way to bring Catalans and Spaniards closer together.

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