Madrid [Spain], June 23 (ANI): Spain's government on Tuesday pardoned nine leaders serving prison sentences for their roles in Catalonia's failed 2017 independence drive, announced Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
CNN reported that the Prime Minister's cabinet approved the pardons, which Sanchez said aim to foster reconciliation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
"It's best for Catalonia and for Spain and it's in accord with the Spanish Constitution... The government will work for understanding and not for confrontation," said Sanchez in a nationally-televised statement.
The nine leaders include Oriol Junqueras, a former vice-president of Catalonia, the wealthy, restive northeastern region whose capital is Barcelona, and where many have long clamored for independence from Spain.
All the nine leaders were arrested in 2017 shortly after the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared the region's independence. This decision prompted the then-Spanish government to use extraordinary powers to take temporary control of the region, ousting its government, reported CNN.
Meanwhile, the pardons will not apply to Catalonia's former president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in 2017, along with some top aides, after Madrid took control of the region. They still face arrest if they return to Spain.
Sanchez, who heads Spain's Socialist government, has recently said publicly that the pardons were coming soon, in order to pursue a negotiated solution between Spain and Catalonia.
However, the opposition conservatives blasted the pardons, saying they weaken Spain. They vowed to fight them, after attracting tens of thousands to an anti-pardon protest in Madrid earlier this month.
The furor over the pardons affected even Antonio Garamendi, president of Spain's influential business-owners association, CEOE, who told Spanish state television last week that if the pardons could help "normalise things, then welcome to them."
He later backtracked, saying his comments were taken out of context. (ANI)