MADRID – Feminists booed the Spanish Equality Minister at an International Women’s Day meeting and others marched to demand her resignation as a political row raged over a law that will allow rapists to get out of prison early.

“Out! Out!” chanted a group of women at the meeting in Madrid, where Irene Montero called for calm.

As thousands marched in cities across Spain on Wednesday to call for greater equality for women, Ms Montero was at the centre of a storm over a law she introduced, dubbed “Only Yes Is Yes”.

The law defined rape as when men have sex with women without their express consent, following similar legislation in Britain and other European nations. But it contained a loophole that has meant Spanish judges have agreed to 721 sentence reductions for sex offenders and 74 have been released from prison early since it came into force in October.

The law carries a lower minimum sentence because the legislation merged crimes of sexual abuse and aggression. It has allowed some offenders who were convicted before it took effect to seek reduced sentences or early release.

To reverse this politically embarrassing setback for Spain’s avowedly feminist government, the ruling Socialists secured the support of opposition parties to pass a proposed reform bill to stop this loophole on Tuesday.

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The issue has divided the coalition government before important regional and local elections in May, which will prove a pointer for the nation’s mood ahead of general elections which are expected in December.

Polls have shown the opposition conservative People’s Party may win the most votes but will struggle to form a majority government and may have to call on the far-right party Vox for support.

Ms Montero is also under pressure over a gender law which has made it possible to change sex at 16 without medical reports.

Last month, Spain became one of the first countries in Europe to allow gender self-determination from the age of 16 without the need for psychological or medical evaluation but some feminists opposed the measure, saying it reversed earlier gains by women’s groups.

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