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ANTI-PROTEST LAW

Interior chief argues that crackdown on protests will “protect citizens”

Hundreds gather in Madrid to demonstrate against regional health cuts

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Sunday defended the government’s controversial Citizens Safety Law, claiming that it will guarantee “more and improved legal protection” to those who want to hold protests.

Speaking in Barcelona, the interior chief rejected arguments by the opposition, social groups and associations that the Popular Party administration wants to curtail their rights to hold demonstrations.

“It will guarantee that those who destroy property or burn trash containers will be punished accordingly because they are putting citizens’ lives at risk,” Fernández said.

The bill, which is expected to be passed in Congress early next year, calls for fines of up to 30,000 euros for such actions as letting “fierce or harmful” dogs loose, ignoring a police officer’s instructions or for “offenses against Spain,” such as shouting or carrying signs “that are harmful or abusive to Spain or any region” during a demonstration. It will make it obligatory for protests to be pre-approved by the authorities.

The Council of Europe has slammed the planned bill. Nils Muiznieks, the commissioner for human rights, called it “disproportionate” and said it violates the rights to assembly.

Fernández’s comments came just hours before hundreds of health professionals and their supporters in Madrid held a march to the Puerta del Sol to protest the regional government’s budget cuts in medical care and its planned privatization of certain services at area hospitals.

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