Several thousand followers of Spain’s far-right Vox party gathered in their cars and on motorbikes in the centre of Madrid and other cities on Saturday to protest over the government’s handling of the nation’s coronavirus crisis.
The party accuses Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s administration of lying about the impact of the health crisis and for violating Spaniards’ rights by confining people to their homes and closing business during the lockdown.
Vox urged demonstrators to attend the “Caravan for Spain and Liberty” in vehicles in order to get round the current ban on social gatherings in effect under the nation’s two-month long state of emergency designed to reduce contagion risks.
“We will never forget what they have done,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said from an open-top bus leading the convoy 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 took part on foot, with some not respecting social distancing rules.
Protests were also held in Barcelona, Seville and other provincial capitals.
Spain’s government said the confinement measures have been necessary to save the nation’s hospitals from collapse and thousands of more lives.
More than 28,000 Spaniards have been confirmed to have died from Covid-19.
The government said that all the information it makes public on deaths and infections from the virus is 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 lockdown applied under the state of emergency, which has limited the right to free movement and assembly, has successfully reined in the outbreak.
Mr Abascal and another leading Vox politician both fell ill with the virus after holding a massive party rally in early March. They have since recovered.
The party apologised for going ahead with the rally but blamed the government for not warning the nation of the danger.
Vox, which is strongly anti-migrant and anti-women’s rights, won its first seats in Spain’s parliament in April 2019. It then made huge gains in a repeat election in November and is the third largest party in the national Parliament.
“I’m here to ask for the government to resign. We are tired of being kept in prison,” said 47-year-old bank employee Almudena Camara at the Madrid protest.
Saturday’s car protest follows a week of small demonstrations in one of Madrid’s wealthiest neighbourhoods and other cities that Vox has backed.
With its hospitals now able to handle the smaller load of cases, Spain is slowly moving towards gradually reactivating its economy and recovering social activities.
On Monday, Madrid and Barcelona, the two hardest-hit areas, will be able to join the rest of the country in reopening 50% of outdoor seating at bars and restaurants and gathering in groups of under 10 people.
Mr Sanchez’s minority government of his Socialists and the left-wing United We Can party is under increasing pressure from opposition parties and some regional leaders to move forward with the rollback to reduce the already huge impact to the economy.
Spanish government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said on Friday that the right to protest “cannot be confused with a right to infect”.
“This is a country where people can protest freely, but we would like them to transmit the truth about what is happening in this country, where the right to expression is protected,” she said.