Freed Catalan separatist leader insists pardon does not guarantee support for Spain's government

Oriol Junqueras was released last week as Madrid sought reconciliation with Catalonia

The recent pardons of Catalan separatist leaders do not guarantee their support for the Spanish government's 2022 budget, a prominent independence figure from the region has said.

Oriol Junqueras, the most senior of the nine freed politicians, said he was not thankful for his pardon because his initial jailing was “unfair”.

But he said he was open to dialogue with the government in Madrid in a bid to calm tensions.

Mr Junqueras, president of the Republican Left of Catalonia, or Esquerra Republicana, said his party would not automatically back left-leaning Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s budget plan.

"When Esquerra Republicana opts to vote in a favour of a measure or against, it is not to favour or harm another political party, but it is always to protect the common good”, he told Reuters.

He said he was not afraid to return to jail if the pardon was reversed.

Mr Junqueras, the former deputy leader of Catalonia’s regional government, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds after an illegal referendum in 2017 in which Catalans overwhelmingly backed independence.

In response, the Spanish government imposed direct rule for seven months.

Mr Sanchez said the pardons were approved to open the way for “reconciliation and reunion”.

But he is accused by right-wing politicians of shoring up parliamentary support with Republican Left.

“Sanchez is not trying to solve a national problem,” Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative People's Party said last week.

“He's destroying the foundations of our democracy, systematically disarming the state."

In a recent poll, more than 60 per cent of people in Spain opposed pardons for the Catalan independence activists.

epa09308970 Catalan pro-independence party ERC's leader Oriol Junqueras delivers a speech during their first party meeting since he was released from prison, in Barcelona, Spain, 28 June 2021.  EPA/MARTA PEREZ

On Tuesday, Mr Sanchez is due to meet Catalonia's head of government Pere Aragones, who is likely to renew the push for an authorised independence referendum.

He is also expected to request an amnesty for the more than 3,000 separatists under legal investigation.

The prime minister, who opposes independence, confirmed that talks with Catalan’s regional government would not include Mr Junqueras because he is banned from holding public office.