Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Protest in Spain over government's handling of COVID crisis

Published:Saturday | May 23, 2020 | 12:00 AM
People wave Spanish flags in their cars during a drive-in protest organised by Spain's far-right Vox party against the Spanish government's handling of the nation's COVID-19 outbreak in Barcelona, Spain today. Several thousand followers of Spain's far-right Vox party gathered Saturday in their cars and on motorbikes in the centre of Madrid and other Spanish cities to protest the Spanish government's handling of the nation's crisis (AP).

Thousands of supporters of Spain’s far-right Vox party gathered today in their cars and on motorbikes in the centre of Madrid and other Spanish cities to protest the Spanish government’s handling of the nation’s COVID-19 crisis, international news agencies report.

The Associated Press says the party has accused the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of lying about the impact of the health crisis and of violating Spaniards’ rights by confining people to their homes and closing businesses during the lock down. ​

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the country's two-month lock down has seen hotels, bars and restaurants all close, as well as beaches and other outdoor attractions.​ Almost one million jobs were lost in March alone, and forecasts suggest the Spanish economy will contract by up to 12 per cent this year as a result of the pandemic.

The demonstrators have called for both Sanchez and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, who heads the left-wing Podemos party, to step down over their handling of the crisis.

"It is time to make a big noise against the government of unemployment and misery that has abandoned our self-employed and workers," the opposition Vox party said in a statement.

Vox called for demonstrators to attend the protests in their vehicles and thus skirt the ban on social gatherings in effect under the nation’s two-month long state of emergency designed to reduce contagion risks. 

Vox called the protest the “Caravan for Spain and Liberty.”

“We will never forget what they have done,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said from the open-top bus leading the caravan as it inched down a Madrid boulevard. 

“Do not doubt that we will make them face justice. They know it and fear our freedom. That is why they try to intimidate us.” 

Most cars and motorbikes were decked with Spanish flags. There were also small groups of people who participated on foot, with some not respecting the two-meter social distancing rules. Protests were also held in Barcelona, Sevilla and other provincial capitals. 

Spain's government says that the confinement measures have been necessary to save the nation's hospitals from collapse and save thousands of lives. 

Sánchez said that the protesters were exercising their constitutional rights, but that he asked them “to respect the criteria, rules, and decisions that health authorities have made."

“This government will preach for concord, peaceful co-existence, respect and tolerance, and not for hate and rage,” he said.

More than 28,000 Spaniards are confirmed to have died from COVID-19. The government says that all the information it makes public on virus deaths and infections are provided by the regions, some of which are governed by opposition parties. No region has accused the government of relaying incorrect data. 

Spain’s left-wing coalition government declared a state of emergency on March 14. The lock down applied under the state of emergency, which has limited the right to free movement and assembly, has successfully reined in the outbreak.

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