On Tuesday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that his administration would pardon the nine jailed leaders of Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence movement as a first step toward resolving the country’s political crisis.
Several hundred separatists protested outside the opera house as he spoke, demanding even greater concessions, and one member of the audience stopped him for a few seconds, chanting “Independence.”
“I am confident that releasing these nine persons… sends a strong message of concord,” Sanchez said at a gathering in the region’s capital on Monday, which was attended by approximately 300 Catalan civil society activists.
At the end of his speech, Sanchez exclaimed in Catalan, “Catalonia, Catalans, we love you,” with the Spanish, Catalan, and EU flags behind him.
According to polls, around 60% of Spaniards oppose releasing lawmakers convicted for their roles in an unauthorized independence referendum and a short-lived declaration of independence. From 2017 to 2018, Madrid responded by asserting direct control over the region.
Sanchez, on the other hand, believes the time has come for a political gamble that will secure his reputation, undermine the independence movement, and end the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
“We don’t expect people seeking independence to abandon their principles,” Sanchez said at the gathering, “but we do want them to understand there is no way outside the law.”
At its meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet will have another chance to rubber stamp the pardons, which should result in the separatists’ release from prison a few days later.
Sanchez wants to de-escalate tensions in the northeastern region and re-start discussions with Catalan authorities.
“Someone has to take the initial step in order to reach an agreement. The Spanish government will take the first step in this direction right now “he stated He went on to say that the social cost of keeping the issue smoldering was too high.
Pere Aragones, the separatist leader of Catalonia’s administration, told Reuters last week that while pardons would be a welcome first step toward discussion, he believed they were insufficient and sought an amnesty for all those participating in the 2017 events, which could benefit roughly 3,000 individuals.