Thousands protest in Spain against government's Catalonia policy

People gather during a protest called by right-wing opposition parties against Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at Colon square in Madrid Spain

Tens of thousands of Spanish nationalists took to the streets in Madrid on Saturday ahead of a proposed meeting between Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan separatists.

The conservative opposition Popular Party and the centre-right Citizens party organized Sunday's rally, which was also backed by the far-right Vox party.

Many in the crowd assembled in Madrid's Plaza de Colon waved the national flag and chanted slogans in support of Spain's security forces along with calling for the Socialist prime minister's resignation.

Speaking at a Socialist party event in northern Spain, Sanchez reminded his political opponents that when he was an opposition leader, he stood by Rajoy on the situation in Catalonia even after separatist regional officials staged an October 2017 independence referendum in defiance of Spanish courts.

The opposition has called for early elections. They are reportedly viewing Sanchez's proposal as succumbing to the pressure of those who have called for Catalonian independence.

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People gather during a protest called by right-wing opposition parties against Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at Colon square in Madrid, Spain, on February 10, 2019.

"The time of Sanchez's government has ended", leader of the Popular Party Pablo Casado said at the protest, according to theNew York Times. But Sanchez's government broke off negotiations on Friday, when Vice-President Carmen Calvo said the separatists wouldn't budge from their demand for an independence referendum.

Ana Puente, a 73 year-old retiree who attended the gathering, said she was protesting for a "united Spain". But those parties have said their vote for the budget is conditional on the Catalan talks including the issue of independence, something the government will not include. If Sanchez is unable to approve his budget, he could call elections before his term is over in 2020.

Recent opinion polls have shown the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox could win a majority of seats in parliament if elections were held, allowing them to replace the Socialist government.

The protests come just a few days before the trial of Catalan independence leaders who allegedly spearheaded the failed secession bid in Spain in 2017.

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