Spain’s prime minister prepares the ground for pardoning Catalan separatists

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Barcelona (AFP)

Spain’s prime minister appeared to be preparing on Wednesday to grant pardon to Catalan separatists convicted of a failed independence attempt in 2017, a risky move for his left-wing minority government facing a resurgent right.

“There is a time for punishment and a time for harmony,” Socialist Prime Minister Sanchez said during a debate in parliament where the possibility of pardon angered right-wing lawmakers.

“This government will make its decision based on what promotes coexistence between the Spaniards.”

The Spanish Supreme Court also ruled by saying that it was “against the granting of any form of pardon, total or partial” to 12 Catalan separatists found guilty of their role in an illegal referendum on secession and a declaration of short-term independence.

In October 2019, the Supreme Court sentenced nine of them – seven senior politicians and two civil society leaders – to terms of imprisonment of between nine and 13 years, while the other three were given one. fine.

The court argued on Wednesday that it had respected “the principle of proportionality” in its conviction and saw “no evidence or indication of remorse” on the part of the prisoners to justify such a pardon.

Among the jailed leaders is Oriol Junqueras, the chairman of the left-wing Catalan separatist party ERC.

Sanchez’s minority government is relying in part on ERC support in the national parliament to pass legislation.

“This decision is very, very risky and could go wrong,” Oriol Bartomeus, professor of politics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​told AFP, when asked about a possible pardon.

– ‘Revenge and revenge’ –

The pardon of the separatists is essential “to solve the problem of Catalonia” and will promote “the stability of the government in parliament”, he declared.

But it “generates a lot of noise” and will be used by the right to “mobilize” its voters against the government, he added.

A pardon has been discussed by the government for months, but it came back to the fore on Tuesday after ERC’s Father Aragones was sworn in as Catalonia’s new head of government.

Asked that day if his government would grant a pardon, Sanchez said he would consider values ​​such as “dialogue” and “understanding” instead of “revenge and revenge.”

The leader of the main conservative opposition party of the Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, retorted Wednesday that “defending national unity is not revenge”.

He has vowed to challenge any pardons in court, while the far-right Vox party has said it will organize street protests against the decision.

The debate comes as support for the PP has overtaken Socialists in opinion polls since the party won a big victory in a regional election in Madrid earlier this month.

The PP and Vox would together win an absolute majority in parliament if a general election were held now, according to a poll published in the conservative ABC daily on Sunday.

– The Catalans want amnesty –

The possibility of a pardon was greeted half-heartedly by Catalan separatists.

“Our proposal is an amnesty but … we will not oppose any measure which alleviates the pain of the prisoners”, declared Aragones during his first press conference at the head of the Catalan government.

“We are waiting for a just solution and as soon as possible”, added Aragones, whose ERC governs in coalition with the more radical party Together for Catalonia (JxC) which led the previous Catalan government.

Unlike a pardon, an amnesty would also affect Catalan leaders who fled Spain after the 2017 independence bid failed, such as Carles Puigdemont, the former head of the Catalan government of the JxC.

The ERC called for a more moderate approach than JxC to advance the cause of Catalonia’s independence.

He supports the dialogue with the Spanish central government and wishes Madrid’s support for a referendum on independence.

Sanchez’s government has rejected both the amnesty and the referendum, but he agrees with the need to relaunch dialogue with the Catalan government.

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