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Tensions around the issue of the Catalan independence movement haven't only embittered the already habitually tense atmosphere within the Spanish Congress during today's unprecedented Saturday debate to invest a new prime minister; they've also made themselves felt in the streets outside. Whilst, in the chamber, the candidate, Pedro Sánchez, clashed with the leaders of PP, Pablo Casado, and Vox, Santiago Abascal, who accused him of trying to take power at any cost, a Spanish nationalist demonstration was trying to reach the doors of the Congress.

At half past twelve, Casado took to the podium to open the speeches from opposition parties, strongly criticising Sánchez. His remarks this time were much more tense than those during July's failed investiture bid.

Sánchez's political epitaph

As soon as he took to the microphone, he told Sánchez that the proposed government, a coalition with Podemos, will be his political epitaph, describing it as "pathetic" that the candidate started his own speech saying Spain wouldn't break up. In little more than two minutes he had already warned the acting prime minister that if Catalan president Quim Torra doesn't resign in the next few years, the central government will have to start proceedings to force him to do so. If that fails, he wants them to impose direct rule again.

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Ortega Smith and Abascal (Vox) during today's debate / Photo: EFE

Spain is deciding who will be its prime minister, but it can't take its eyes off Catalonia. Shortly after Catalan vice-president Pere Aragonès told the press briefing room in the Catalan Parliament that Torra will be the president to negotiate at the bilateral table with the Spanish government, Casado told Sánchez this shows that Aragonès "agrees with Torra's insubordination".

Catalonia, however, wasn't the only subject of the constant cascade of criticism from Casado towards Sánchez. The PP leader called him a "walking lie" and said that he's the "only illness that today can become chronic in Spanish democracy". "Today, Spain is left without constitutionalist socialism and you're responsible for it", he said to applause from his party's tireless benches.

The attack didn't catch Sánchez by surprised, and he'd already got his replies ready. The clash degraded into more of a personal tussle, in which the candidate responded to PP's leader by reminding him that he's lost five elections this year and fell three million votes short of Mariano Rajoy's worst result. "To learn to win, Mr Casado, you have to learn to lose", he said under ceaseless jeering from PP delegates.

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Protesters outside the Congress / Photo: EFE

Whilst the acting prime minister and the leader of the opposition locked horns inside the chamber, the Spanish nationalist demonstration through the streets of the capital came up against the police barriers blocking access to the Congress building.

The rally had been organised by a 27-year-old engineer without the formal support of any party, although the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida (PP), had announced he would attend.

After Casado came the turn of far-right party Vox's leader Santiago Abascal, who called not for the banning from public office, but the arrest of Quim Torra. In response, JxCat's delegates left the hemicycle.

The new speaker didn't see much of a calming of tensions. Nor was one expected. "Fraud, without scruples, capable of anything with the aim of continuing to live in the Moncloa palace, a comic book villain, an unworthy politician who has committed the worst electoral fraud..."; there was little that Abascal didn't throw at Sánchez.

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