Spain sets out plan to tackle rising hate crimes

FILE PHOTO: LGBTIQ activists and supporters hold signs during a protest against homophobic crimes, at Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain, September 8, 2021. The signs read 'Justice!'. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will create specialised groups within the Interior Ministry and the police force to prevent hate crimes and support victims, the government said on Friday, amid mounting public pressure to curb an increase in such attacks.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez chaired an urgent meeting of ministers, community leaders and police to discuss how to reduce hate crimes, which have been growing by around 9% a year since 2014, according to the Interior Ministry.

The meeting was called after a man said he was attacked last weekend in downtown Madrid by a gang who carved a homophobic slur into his buttocks.

Although the man later retracted his statement, homophobic violence had already been in the spotlight since the killing of nursing assistant Samuel Luiz, who was beaten to death in July allegedly over his sexual orientation. LGBT rights groups plan to hold a rally on Saturday in Madrid.

While attacks against the LGBT community have garnered most attention in Spain, other types of discriminatory violence, particularly against the ethnic Roma, or gitanos, are also on the rise.

"We must also work specifically to tackle hate crimes against gitanos, which increased by more than 57% in 2020," Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.

The committee agreed to increase hiring for the National Anti-Hate Crime Unit and will provide more details of a new three-year plan at a later date.

On Wednesday Grande-Marlaska said the normalisation of discriminatory speech on social networks and in the public sphere was creating a breeding ground for intolerance.

A number of opposition politicians have called for Grande-Marlaska's resignation amid the embarrassment caused by the retracted statement, accusing the government of rushing to conclusions based on unverified claims.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen, editing by Andrei Khalip and Gareth Jones)

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