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Pardoned Catalan independence leaders walk free from prison

CATALAN independence leaders pardoned by the Spanish government walked free from prison today, to cheers of supporters.

The nine leaders had been facing lengthy sentences for organising a bid for independence four years ago to make Catalonia an independent republic.

Former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, five fellow Cabinet members, the former regional parliament’s speaker and two pro-independence activists have spent between three and four years behind bars.

Spain’s cabinet pardoned them on Tuesday in what Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he hopes is the start of reconciliation in the country’s north-eastern region.

But local support for the leaders indicates that demands for independence will not be quashed.

The nine men were met by dozens of people cheering and clapping in the rain. The leaders held up a banner that read: “Freedom Catalonia” as well as a Catalan flag.

Mr Junqueras told the crowd: “We are aware that today, with our release from prison, nothing has ended.

“Prison does not scare us, it reinforces our ideas.”

Following the release, the Prime Minister’s office announced that Mr Sanchez and Catalan regional president Pere Aragones, who greeted the nine outside the prison, will meet in Madrid on June 29 for discussions.

In 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,” Mr Casado said, accusing Mr Sanchez of going back on his word to not make concessions to independence campaigners when he came to power.

Catalan legislators called for the government to take a step further and urged it to follow the “Scottish way,” in reference to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.

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