Spain frees nine leaders of Catalan independence

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his government would pardon the nine leaders of Catalonia's 2017 independence drive on Tuesday. This decision was taken as the first step towards ending the political conflict over the region.

UMMATIMES - "I believe getting these nine people out of prison is a clear message of harmony," Sanchez said, attended by some 300 members of Catalan civil society.

When Sanchez spoke at the Barcelona opera house, he stated that he was a Spaniard who loves Catalonia. He spoke with the flags of Spain, Catalonia and the European Union behind him.

Polls show around 60 percent of Spaniards oppose the release of politicians convicted of their role in the illegitimate independence referendum and the short-lived declaration of independence. Madrid responded at the time by imposing direct supervision over the region from 2017-2018.

But Sanchez is betting it is time for a political gamble to weaken the independence drive and resolve the country's biggest political crisis in decades. "We don't expect that those seeking independence will change their ideals, but we hope (they) understand that there is no way outside the law," Sanchez said.

The cabinet's next chance to stamp the pardon comes at its meeting on Tuesday. This event will lead to the release of the separatists from prison a few days later.

Sanchez wants to defuse tensions in the northeast and start negotiations between the central government and Catalan authorities. "To reach an agreement one has to make the first step. The Spanish government will make that first step now," he said stressing the social costs of keeping the conflict simmering too high.

Catalan head of government Pere Aragones said last week that the pardon would be a welcome first gesture to start dialogue. However, he judged that the decision was not enough. He demanded amnesty for all involved in the 2017 events, which could benefit some 3,000 people.