Published: Wed, February 13, 2019
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Thousands rally in Madrid against Spanish PM's proposed talks on Catalonia

Thousands rally in Madrid against Spanish PM's proposed talks on Catalonia

They are accused of rebellion amongst a string of "offences" after a unilateral declaration of independence was made following a referendum held in 2017.

There was shock at home and overseas when police used batons and rubber bullets on protesters on the day of the vote.

The case puts the spotlight back on Spain's biggest political crisis in decades and could make it flare once again as it refocuses attention on the region's push for secession.

Supreme Court President Carlos Lesmes points out that if the justice system really was not independent, the king's brother-in-law would not be in jail for corruption, nor would a court ruling have sparked a no-confidence motion that brought down the conservative government in June.

Public prosecutors accuse nine of the 12 of rebellion, which implies the use of violence - a key charge which has divided Spanish legal experts.

Separatists call them "political prisoners" who are suffering oppression of the kind experienced in Spain during Francisco Franco's 1939-75 dictatorship.

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Spain will hold municipal, regional and European Parliament elections in May.

Fellow defendants include veteran Catalan politicians Oriol Junqueras and Carme Forcadell.

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

FILE - Fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont addresses the media in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 24, 2018.

The highly sensitive trial is expected to last for three months and there are concerns it could reignite tensions surrounding the fate of Catalonia. The Catalan groups want a referendum on independence included on the agenda, which Madrid will not accept.

Spanish authorities say that the separatists are guaranteed a fair trial by the very democracy founded on the rule of law that they allegedly violated.

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

"The Catalan question is activating a nationalistic and identitarian confrontation not only in Catalonia but also in all of Spain", Orriols said. A failure to approve the budget proposal could prompt a snap parliamentary election this year.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Madrid, Spain, on Sunday to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's plans to negotiate with Catalan separatists. These have said they would block the bill, citing their dissatisfaction with Sanchez's policy towards the region, despite his efforts for dialog.

Amid the ongoing protests, embattled Prime Minister Sanchez tweeted, "The #Government works for the unity of #Spain and this means uniting the Spaniards and not confronting them as the right does". The population is largely split in two between those who favor remaining part of Spain and those wanting to secede. But the move backfired and the secessionists retained a slim majority in the Catalan assembly.

Junqueras himself faces the largest possible sentence of 25 years for rebellion.

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