Madrid protests: Thousands demonstrate in Spain over Catalonia policy

Jacob Jarvis

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Madrid today for a protest by right-wing parties against possible Spanish government concessions to Catalan pro-independence parties.

Some 45,000 demonstrators chanted “Spain” and “we want to vote” as they also called for early elections in the country.

The government's proposal last Tuesday to appoint a rapporteur to facilitate talks among political parties to address the Catalan independence crisis spurred opposing groups into action.

Opposition centre-right and far-right parties called the rally, seeking to make a show of force against socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

Protesters wave Spanish flags during a demonstration at Plaza de Colon in Madrid

In doing so they hope to capitalise on anger with Catalonia's separatist leaders and the government's efforts to establish a dialogue with them.

Those against this deemed the move a betrayal and a surrender to pressure from Catalan separatists.

Their chants filled the Plaza de Colon in the city centre in the largest protest prime minister Sanchez has faced in eight months in office.

Popular Party leader Pablo Casado told reporters before the protest: "The time of Sanchez's government has ended.”

Pablo Casado delivers a speech during a demonstration in Madrid

Some banners at the rally read "Sanchez, liar" and "Spain is not negotiable and cannot be sold".

Mr Sanchez replaced a conservative government last June in a vote of confidence.

He holds just a quarter of the seats in parliament and relies on backing from anti-austerity party Podemos, Catalan nationalists as well as other small parties to pass laws.

The government is squeezed on both sides of the Catalan issue.

The protesters chants filled the streets

Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday the proposed talks were on track to fail.

This was because Catalan pro-independence groups had rejected the government's proposed framework.

The Catalan groups want a referendum on independence included on the agenda but Madrid will not accept such a proposal.

Ana Puente, a 73 year-old retiree who attended the gathering, said she was protesting for a "united Spain".

Raquel Garcia, 76, who was carrying a Spanish flag, said: "The government is giving many things to supporters of Catalan independence and is going to break Spain apart."

Prime minister Pedro Sanchez has been criticised

Despite this argument, Prime Minister Sanchez told a separate rally in the northern city of Santander: "The government works for the unity of Spain and that means to unify Spaniards and not to put one against the other as the right is doing today in Colon square."

The protest took place two days before the start of the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders.

They face up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in a failed secession bid from Spain they are accused of spearheading in 2017.

The government also faces a key vote on Wednesday on its 2019 budget proposal which will likely fail without the support of Catalan parties.

Those parties have said their vote for the budget is conditional on the Catalan talks including the issue of independence, which is something the government will not include.

Failure by parliament to approve the budget bill could prompt a snap election before the next scheduled vote in 2020.