22 Nov, 2023 @ 12:17
2 mins read

Eighteen nights of protests in Madrid against government’s Catalan amnesty plan see more than 70 arrests

Protests in Madrid
Photo by Ximena Borrazas / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

LAST NIGHT marked the 18th improvised protest to be held outside the headquarters of the Socialist Party in Madrid’s Ferraz street. The demonstrations were originally sparked by the announcement that the group had reached an amnesty deal with Catalan separatist parties, but have since become a nightly rejection of the newly formed government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

According to sources from Spain’s Interior Ministry, who were speaking to news agency Europa Press, a total of 70 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began, with charges ranging from public disorder and disobedience, to attacks on an officer of the law. 

Of these, 47 detainees were placed in the hands of the courts, while 29 were freed. At least six minors were among those arrested.

And of the 18 nights of protests, arrests were made on 10 occasions, according to the central government’s delegation in Madrid. 

While the majority of the demonstrators have proved to be peaceful, far-right ‘ultra’ groups have regularly been present, throwing objects at police officers and chanting racist and offensive slogans against the government.

One of the most high-profile detentions took place on Monday night, when alt-right agitator and pseudo-journalist Vito Quiles was arrested for allegedly disobeying officers and ‘struggling’ with a policeman in an attempt by the crowds to cut off the traffic in Ferraz street. 

Quiles spent the night in custody and then the next morning took to social media to denounce having been ‘illegally detained’. 

Politicians from far-right Vox have been present at the demonstrations, including party leader and deputy in Congress Santiago Abascal. 

A fellow Vox deputy, Javier Ortega Smith, has also attended several protests. Videos shared on social media showed him speaking to the riot police present in the area, accusing them of heavy-handed tactics and ‘exceeding their roles’.

The protests were sparked when the Socialist Party announced it had signed a deal with the Catalan nationalist ERC party that included an amnesty for anyone involved in the independence drive in the northeastern Spanish region. 

That was followed by a similar deal with separatist group Junts per Catalunya, which stands to benefit its leader, Carles Puigdemont. The politician was the regional premier in 2017, and is considered one of the main architects of the illegal vote on secession from Spain held in October of that year. He fled the country to avoid arrest and has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium ever since. 

Protests in Madrid
A protester makes the Nazi salute while singing the anthem of the political party “La Falange” during a demonstration. Supporters of the neo-Nazi political party “La Falange” demonstrated in Madrid and marched towards Ferraz Street to join the protests against the investiture of Pedro Sánchez and the amnesty. Photo by Ximena Borrazas / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

In return for the deals, Pedro Sanchez secured the votes he needed from ERC and Junts per Catalunya to secure another term as prime minister in the wake of the inconclusive general election on July 23. 

At an investiture vote last Thursday, lawmakers from a range of parties in Congress voted him back into power

As well as the nightly protests in Ferraz street, the main opposition Partido Popular (PP) has been organising demonstrations across the country. On November 12, PP leader Alberto Nuñez Feijoo called demonstrations in all of Spain’s 50 provinces. The biggest protest that day was seen in Madrid, where the central government’s delegation said that 80,000 people turned out (the organisers claimed there were half-a-million). 

This past weekend there was another mass protest in the central Plaza de Cibeles. Members of the PP and Vox were present at the demonstration on Saturday, with organisers claiming a million people turned out. The central government delegation, however, put its estimate at 170,000 people. 

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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