Spain to pardon nine Catalan independence leaders

Announcement by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez angers conservative politicians

Spain is set to pardon nine jailed Catalan independence leaders, as the government in Madrid seeks to rebuild ties with the region.

But the peace offering by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has angered conservative politicians and risks upsetting Spaniards opposed to freeing the group.

Mr Sanchez said his Cabinet would approve the pardons on Tuesday.

A statement from his office before the Cabinet meeting said the government "has decided to confront the problem and to look for concord, opening a way for reconciliation and reunion".

The nine politicians and activists who led Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid were jailed in 2019 by Spain's Supreme Court for their role in an unauthorised independence referendum.

The vote, on a turnout of 43 per cent, saw 92 per cent back independence for the region of 7.5 million people.

In response, the government in Madrid imposed direct control for seven months during 2017 and 2018.

“With this action, we materially get nine people out of prison, but we symbolically add millions and millions of people to coexistence,” Mr Sanchez said, during a speech in Barcelona.

“We are going to do it for the sake of agreement, we are going to do it wholeheartedly", he told an audience of a few hundred civil society activists at Barcelona’s opera house.

No prominent independence supporters were in attendance.

Outside the venue, separatist protesters demanded a full amnesty for the nine leaders.

Pere Aragones, head of the Catalan government since May 2021, said: "The Spanish government corrects an unfair ruling by the Supreme Court.”

However, he also vowed to push for a new, authorised referendum.

In a recent poll, more than 60 per cent of Spaniards opposed pardons for the Catalan independence activists, with about half of those voting for Mr Sanchez’s left-leaning government at the last election.

The move to pardon also angered right-wing politicians.

"Sánchez is not trying to solve a national problem," said Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative People's Party.

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