Hundreds of pro-independence protesters demonstrated in the center of Barcelona on Monday morning against a high-stakes conference held by Spain’s president Pedro Sánchez in the Liceu opera house, where he announced the controversial pardons for Catalonia’s political prisoners. The theater was heavily guarded by dozens of police officers in riot gear.

Sánchez presented the pardons to the nine politicians and activists serving lengthy prison sentences for their role in the 2017 independence referendum push as a tool for reconciliation and overcoming political divisions. The Spanish government will pardon them on Tuesday. “We don’t expect those who want independence to change their minds—but for them to understand that they must respect the law”, said Sánchez, adding that the measure will encourage “reconciliation” between Catalonia and Spain.

While the independence camp agrees that the only real solution is a full amnesty for all people facing prosecution, some politicians have welcomed pardons as a measure that will “relieve some pain,” freeing them while still barring them from public office. Others say that the pardons are a double-edged sword that will benefit some of the movement’s top leaders while putting the ultimate goal of independence on hold.

Some of the associations calling pro-independence protests on Monday include the Catalan National Assembly, which for years organized massive demonstrations for Catalonia’s National Day, and the Committees in Defense of the Republic or CDR, created in the run-up to the 2017 referendum to resist Spain’s attempts to stop the vote.

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