Nine pardoned pro-independence Catalan leaders to walk free

MADRID (AP) — Nine separatists pardoned by the Spanish government are expected on Wednesday to leave the prisons where they were serving lengthy terms for organizing a bid for an independent Catalonia republic nearly four years ago.

Spain’s Cabinet pardoned them Tuesday in the hope of starting what Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called a much-needed reconciliation in the country’s restive northeastern region.

Former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, five fellow Cabinet members, the former regional parliament’s speaker and two pro-independence activists are expected to walk free at noon on Wednesday after spending between three-and-a-half and four years behind bars.

Spain’s official gazette published earlier in the day the government decree pardoning them.

The order canceled the remainder of prison terms ranging from nine to 13 years over sedition and misuse of public funds linked to the 2017 banned referendum and a short-lived independence declaration. But the separatists won’t be able to hold public office until the end of their sentences and they could go back to prison if they go against Spanish law again, the decree said.

Despite polls showing that much of Spain’s public is against the pardons, Sánchez has defended them, arguing that they are popular in Catalonia and that freeing the separatists will be a fresh start for relations between central and regional authorities.

The political division was on display Wednesday during a government control session at the nation’s parliament.

Conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado called for the prime minister’s resignation for issuing the pardons without consulting lawmakers.

“You are applauding an unfortunate day for Spain’s democratic history, you are throwing the fate of the country into the hands of the separatists,” Casado said, accusing Sánchez of lying because the Socialist leader had vowed not to make concessions to separatists when he came to power.

Sánchez responded saying that the decision to issue pardons was “brave, restorative and in favor of coexistence.”

Catalan separatist legislators called for the government to take a step further and urged it to follow the “Scottish way” — in reference to the 2014 independence referendum authorized by the British government. Voters in Scotland elected to remain in the U.K.

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