MADRID - Thousands of Spaniards joined a right-wing rally in Madrid on Sunday to demand that Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez step down.
Many in the crowd gathered in the capital's Plaza de Colon, waving Spanish flags. They chanted slogans in favor of the nation's security forces and for Sanchez to resign.
The conservative opposition Popular Party and the center-right Citizens party organized the rally, which was also backed by the upstart far-right Vox and other marginal far-right parties. They claim that Sanchez must resign for holding talks with separatists in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
"The time of Sanchez's government is over," said Popular Party president Pablo Casado, who asked voters to punish Sanchez's Socialists in upcoming European, local and regional elections in May.
The political tensions come as a highly sensitive trial at Spain's Supreme Court starts Tuesday for 12 Catalan separatists who face charges, including rebellion, for their roles in a failed secession attempt in 2017.
Sanchez inherited the Catalan crisis from former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the then-leader of the Popular Party. Rajoy proved incapable of stopping support for secession from swelling in Catalonia to roughly half of the region's voters.
Sanchez came to power in June promising to thaw tensions between central authorities in Madrid and the Catalan leaders in Barcelona. He has met twice with Catalan chief Quim Torra and members of both governments had several more encounters.
Sanchez had said he would be willing to help Catalan lawmakers agree to a new Charter Law, which determines the amount of self-rule the region enjoys. 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.
Sanchez is trying to cobble together support to pass a national budget and will need votes from the Catalan separatists to pass it.
Even though Sanchez has said he wants to see out the legislative term through 2020, a failure to win a budget vote will crank up the pressure on him to call for an early election.