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Spanish far-right party boycotts gender violence declaration

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest to mark the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Madrid, Spain, November 25, 2019. Signs read: "We want us alive" and "Not one less". REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Spain's far-right Vox party refused to sign an all-party declaration condemning violence against women on Monday, drawing outrage from civil rights groups and embarrassing its allies in the conservative Partido Popular.

Vox's refusal to sign the declaration by the Madrid city council meant that for the first time since a landmark 2004 law on gender violence, local authorities in the Spanish capital were unable to issue a joint all-party statement.

This month's national election saw Vox surge to become the third-largest party in the Spanish parliament, more than doubling its number of seats with its mix of nationalist and anti-feminist rhetoric.

Javier Ortega Smith, a member of both Madrid city council and the national parliament said the declaration, on the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, addressed only one side of gender violence.

In a speech greeted by shouts of anger from the audience in the Madrid city hall, he condemned what he described as "denialists" on gender violence, adding: "there are also men who suffer violence from women and are killed by their wives".

Hours later thousands of people took to the streets across Spain to demand that authorities do more to address the issue.

In Madrid, demonstrators brought traffic in the city centre to a standstill, waving signs that read, "How many more women must die?" and chanting, "It's not an isolated case; it's patriarchy."

Lawyer Patrocinio Rodriguez said she had seen news of Ortega Smith's comments in the morning. "I don't understand how they can deny something so obvious, so clear."

The remarks were also condemned by the mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez Almeida, from the centre-right PP, whose administration with the pro-business Ciudadanos relies on support from Vox to govern. "It is not politics what you have done here today; it is political posturing," said Almeida.

There was an angrier reaction from civil rights activists such as Nadia Otmani, head of an association that helps migrant women deal with gender violence.

Otmani, wheelchair-bound for 20 years after she said her brother-in-law shot her as she tried to defend her sister, approached Ortega Smith in tears after his speech, crying: "You cannot do this! You cannot play politics with gender violence!"

"Vox came mounting an important challenge to democracy and started with this one," said acting deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, from the centre-left Socialists.

According to official statistics compiled since 2003, 1,024 women have been killed in Spain by their partners as of Oct. 22. To date this year, 52 women have been killed.

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