Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has clashed with his election rivals over how to handle Catalonia’s independence drive in a tense televised debate on Monday evening.
The debate saw leaders of Spain’s key parties, including Sanchez’s Socialists, Pablo Casado’s conservative People’s Party (PP), the far-right Vox and the far-left Unidas Podemos clash over Madrid’s policy in Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s general election.
Casado accused Sanchez of being too soft in his response to the ongoing unrest, and decried political alliances between the ruling Socialists and separatist parties. The conservative politician also repeatedly asked Sanchez if he believed that Spain was a multinational state and if Catalonia was a nation.
“You don’t believe in the Spanish nation,” Casado said.
‘Permanent coup d’etat’
While Sanchez did not provide a direct answer, he referenced Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy, which refers to regions and nationalities. He pledged to alter the law to make clear that organizing an illegal referendum was a crime.
Sanchez also urged Casado to show “humility and self-criticism,” reminding him that Catalonia held two independence referendums while the conservatives were in power.
The leader of the far-right Vox blamed both the Socialists and the People’s Party of botching the Catalan crisis.
“There’s a permanent coup d’etat in Catalonia,” said Vox leader Santiago Abascal.
One-third still undecided
Sanchez’s Socialists are leading the polls ahead of Sunday’s vote. However, none of the parties are expected to win an outright majority and one-third of Spanish voters are still undecided. A previous election in April produced a stalemate, with lawmakers unable to form a ruling coalition.
Spain’s right-wing parties have gained ground with the recent uptick of violence, which saw Catalan protesters throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police.
Anti-royal protests in Barcelona
Spain’s King Felipe VI and several members of the royal family traveled to Catalonia on Monday to attend an award ceremony, prompting protests. Some 2,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona in the evening, with some burning pictures of the monarch and chanting “go away!”
At the event, Felipe called for calm.
“In today’s reality there can’t be room for violence, intolerance or contempt for the rights of others,” he said while giving a speech in Catalan.
The heir to the throne, 14-year-old Princess Leonor, also made her Catalan-speaking debut at the ceremony. “Catalonia will always have a special place in my heart,” she said in her second public speech.
Roughly half of Catalan population is in favor of seceding from Spain, according to official surveys.
dj/cmk (Reuters, EFE, AP, dpa)
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