Protesters took to the streets of the Spanish capital yesterday to demonstrate against the government’s policy of dialogue with Catalan separatists.
Tomorrow is the start of the trial of 12 separatists, following their failed cessation bid in 2017.
Demonstrators waving Spanish flags filled the Plaza de Colon in the city centre in the largest protest Sanchez has yet faced, demanding elections aimed at strengthening Spanish unity.
The Socialist government’s proposal last Tuesday to appoint a liaison in talks among political parties to address the Catalan independence crisis galvanised the opposition, which has described it as a surrender to pressure from Catalan separatists.
Sanchez’ minority administration replaced a conservative government last June, holds only a quarter of the seats in parliament and relies on backing from anti-austerity party Podemos, Catalan nationalists and other small parties to pass laws.
The government faces a key vote next Wednesday on its 2019 budget proposal, which is expected to fail without the support of Catalan parties. But those parties have said their vote for the budget is conditional on the Catalan talks including the issue of independence, 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.
Centre-right wing parties Popular Party and Ciudadanos organised Sunday’s protest, and the newly emerged far-right party Vox also participated.
“The time of Sanchez’s government has ended,” Popular Party leader Pablo Casado said at the protest.
Sanchez said on Saturday that the gathering would show a “Spain in black and white that simply proposes to go backwards.”
Ana Puente, a 73 year-old retiree, said she was protesting for a “united Spain”.
“The government is giving many things to supporters of Catalan independence and is going to break Spain apart,” said Raquel García, 76, who was carrying a Spanish flag.
The protest took place two days before the start of the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders, who 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 that they are accused of spearheading in 2017.
The government is squeezed on both sides of the Catalan issue: Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday talks were on track to fail because Catalan pro-independence groups had rejected the government’s proposed framework. The Catalan groups want a referendum on independence included on the agenda, which Madrid will not accept.
Recent opinion polls have shown the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox could win a majority of seats in parliament if elections were held, allowing them to replace the Socialist government.