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Spain on edge as Sánchez strikes deal on Catalan amnesty, politician shot

Political tensions boiled over in Spain after acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez entered a controversial amnesty deal with Catalan separatists and a co-founder of Spain's far-right Vox party was shot in the face.

(CN) — Spain entered an alarming period of political anger on Thursday with a right-wing politician getting shot in the face on a Madrid street only hours after acting Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced an amnesty deal for Catalan separatists, a major concession in his bid to stay in power.

Thursday's events plunged Spain into political turmoil with right-wing opposition politicians lashing out at Sánchez and calling on Spaniards to protest the amnesty offer for Catalan politicians and activists facing legal action in connection to a failed and illegal independence drive in 2017.

The day's political events took a sinister turn with the shooting of Alejandro Vidal-Quadras, a 78-year-old veteran politician who helped found Vox, a far-right ultra-nationalist party that's grown in popularity in recent years and whose leaders have led protests against the amnesty deal. He left Vox in 2014 after failing to retain a seat in the European Parliament.

Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face near his home in Madrid, Spanish media reported. Reports said a gunman wearing a helmet shot him in the street and then fled on a motorcycle driven by a second person. He was in stable condition, according to media reports. The suspects remained at large as of late Thursday and police had not linked the shooting to tensions over the amnesty deal. Spanish media reported that Vidal-Quadras told police he believed the attack was linked to his close ties to opponents of the Iranian regime.

The shooting took place amid news that Sánchez had secured a deal with Carles Puigdemont, a self-exiled Catalan politician and former Catalan president who led a campaign in 2017 to make Catalonia an independent state by holding an illegal referendum.

After inconclusive elections in July, Sánchez needed the support of Puigdemont's right-wing Together with Catalonia party to obtain a majority in the Congress of Deputies, Spain's powerful lower house in Parliament. But Puigdemont and a left-wing Catalan party, the Republican Left of Catalonia, demanded an amnesty in return for their backing of a new Sánchez government.

The seven parliamentary seats held by Together with Catalonia will push Sánchez over the line to form a minority government made up of his center-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, known also by its Spanish initials PSOE, and the far-left Sumar. He will rely on regional Basque and Catalan separatist parties to pass legislation.

Puigdemont fled to Brussels after Spanish authorities cracked down on the Catalan independence movement and he faces criminal charges in Spain for his role in the secessionist effort.

The amnesty deal has sparked large protests in Spain, which turned violent on Tuesday as far-right forces clashed with police outside the national Socialist headquarters in Madrid.

Opposition politicians and critics decry the proposed amnesty law as illegal and unconstitutional. Conservative Spanish judges have spoken out against the law, too. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, added its voice to the debate on Thursday by raising “serious concerns” about the proposed amnesty law, according to letter sent to Sánchez's government and leaked to the media.

Right-wing rhetoric against amnesty has grown more fierce in recent days, with top politicians describing Sánchez as a “dictator,” “traitor” and “coup plotter.”

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of the center-right Popular Party, called the deal “shameful” and said it would worsen tensions over Catalonia.

“The PSOE is giving in to all the demands of the secessionists who have not made a concession or shown regret, quite the opposite,” Feijóo said.

Santiago Abascal, the populist leader of Vox, lashed out at Sánchez at a news conference Thursday, calling the amnesty deal a “coup against the nation” and “an agreement between traitors” that needed to be opposed by “civil resistance.”

He urged protesters to be firm but peaceful, though he has not condemned far-right activists who've displayed fascist and Nazi symbols and clashed with police at protests.

Meanwhile, Spanish media reported that a Socialist leader and deputy mayor in the southern province of Cádiz was pushed to the ground on a street Thursday and called a “traitor.” Socialists blamed the attack on the rhetoric coming from the right.

Sánchez has shifted his position on amnesty; until recently, he said he opposed it because it was unconstitutional. Now, he's portraying his policy pivot as necessary for solving the political tensions in Catalonia.

“Catalonia is ready for total reunion,” Sánchez said in a recent interview with El Pais, a Spanish newspaper. “In the name of Spain, in the interest of Spain, in defense of coexistence among Spaniards, I defend today the amnesty in Catalonia for the events that occurred in the past decade.”

In announcing the deal Thursday after talks with Puigdemont in Brussels, Santos Cerdán, a top Socialist official, called amnesty “a historic opportunity to resolve a conflict that could — and should — only be resolved politically.”

While a majority of Catalans favor amnesty, a recent poll found 70% of Spaniards were against it.

Barring any last-minute surprises, Sánchez is expected to win an investiture vote next week in Parliament that will allow him to remain in the premiership.

“The noise around the agreement points to an even more polarized political environment in the coming months,” said Antonio Barroso, an expert on Spanish politics at Teneo, a London-based political risk firm, in a briefing note.

He said the Socialists appear to believe they can stay in government for at least two years, until 2025 elections in Catalonia, which they hope to win.

“Sánchez would then use this potential victory to argue that his policies have helped to deflate the secessionist movement,” Barroso said, “hoping this would help him to regain some political momentum.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Courts, Government, International, Politics

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