MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government on Tuesday approved pardons for nine Catalan separatist leaders jailed for their role in a failed independence bid in the region in 2017, the state broadcaster TVE said after the end of a cabinet meeting.
The leaders were sentenced in 2019 to between nine and 13 years for crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds, committed in organising a referendum on breaking away from Spain that authorities in Madrid banned but which led to a short-lived declaration of independence.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has described the pardons, which surveys show that a majority of Spaniards oppose, as a goodwill gesture and a first step towards resolving a bitter political conflict with the wealthy northeastern region, whose government has sought a new referendum on independence under Madrid’s auspices.
Conservative opposition parties in Madrid have said they will challenge the pardons in the courts, while hundreds of separatists protested in Barcelona on Monday, considering Sanchez’s plan insufficient and demanding a new referendum on the region’s independence.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Joan Faus and Luis Felipe Castilleja, editing by Andrei Khalip and John Stonestreet)