Pablo Iglesias walks out of Madrid debate in clash over death threat

The Unidas Podemos leader and former Spanish deputy prime minister, Pablo Iglesias, has walked out of a Madrid regional election debate after the candidate for the far-right Vox party cast doubt on the death threat he and his family had received along with four assault rifle bullets.

Iglesias revealed on Thursday that he had been mailed the bullets and a threat, which read: “You have let our parents and grandparents die. Your wife, your parents and you are sentenced to capital punishment. Your time is running out.”

Similar threats were sent to Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who serves as interior minister in Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government, and María Gámez, the head of the Guardia Civil police force.

Iglesias was appearing in a Cadena Ser radio debate on Friday ahead of next month’s Madrid’s regional election when the Vox candidate, Rocío Monasterio, accused him of hypocrisy for refusing to condemn the assaults her party members had suffered on the campaign trail.

She said Vox condemned all violence, but “Spaniards just don’t believe anything this government says.” She had also sought to cast doubt on Iglesias in an interview earlier on Friday, when she said: “I don’t believe much of what Pablo Iglesias says.”

Iglesias, who left the central government to fight the Madrid election, had asked Monasterio to retract her comments when the debate began. When she refused, he said the debate risked “whitewashing the extreme right” and normalising their arguments, and left the studio.

The Socialist party candidate, Ángel Gabilondo, and Mónica García, who is running for the leftwing Más Madrid party, pulled out of the debate in solidarity with Iglesias.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, condemned the death threats and described Iglesias, Grande-Marlaska and Gámez as committed public servants. “In the face of any disagreement, words,” he said. “In the face of threats and violence, justice and democracy.”

The election, which will be held on 4 May, has served to aggravate Spain’s already bitter political tensions. The region’s incumbent president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the conservative People’s party, is expected to retain power, but Vox has attempted to win over rightwing voters with another aggressive and provocative campaign.

Riot police had to separate protesters and Vox supporters earlier this month after the party staged a rally in the traditionally leftwing working-class Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas.

Prosecutors also opened an investigation on Tuesday to determine whether a Vox campaign poster constituted a hate crime. The poster contrasted a picture of an older white woman with that of a hooded, masked, and dark-skinned male.

Its caption incorrectly suggested that refugees and migrant children in state care receive 10 times more in benefits each month than the average Spanish grandmother does in pension payments.

It is not the first time Vox has sought to demonise foreigners. In the run-up to the general election in November 2019, its leader, Santiago Abascal, falsely suggested that 70% of gang rapes in Spain were committed by foreigners.

Monasterio had claimed earlier in the day that unaccompanied foreign minors made the streets unsafe and posed “a serious problem in our neighbourhoods”.

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