Cata­lan speaker held pend­ing $230K bail

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

MADRID: The Speaker of Cat­alo­nia’s sacked par­lia­ment was de­tained yes­ter­day over her re­gion’s drive for in­de­pen­dence from Spain, pend­ing pay­ment of a 150,000 ($230,000) bail.

Carme For­cadell and five other deputies ap­peared in front of Spain’s high­est tri­bunal on charges of sedi­tion, re­bel­lion and mis­use of pub­lic funds — which carry a max­i­mum jail sen­tence of 30 years — for aiding the Cata­lan par­lia­ment’s se­ces­sion bid.

They are sus­pected of hav­ing fol­lowed a “con­certed strat­egy to de­clare in­de­pen­dence”, be­fore the of­fi­cial dec­la­ra­tion on Oc­to­ber 27, deep­en­ing Spain’s most se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in decades.

That dec­la­ra­tion was an­nulled on Wed­nes­day by Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court. Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena or­dered one Cata­lan MP to be freed, but the four oth­ers apart from Ms For­cadell must pay 25,000 within a week to avoid jail.

The Cata­lan cri­sis has prompted hun­dreds of busi­nesses to rereg­is­ter out­side the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion and caused dis­quiet in an EU still deal­ing with Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to leave the bloc.

On Wed­nes­day, a gen­eral strike called in Cat­alo­nia by a proin­de­pen­dence union trig­gered wide­spread travel chaos, cut­ting Spain’s main high­way link to France and the rest of Europe and dis­rupt­ing trains from Barcelona to Paris, Mar­seilles and Lyons. Author­i­ties said about 150,000 peo­ple were af­fected.

En­cour­aged by their fig­ure­head Car­les Puigde­mont, Cata­lan lead­ers voted to de­clare uni­lat­eral in­de­pen­dence from Spain af­ter go­ing ahead with a banned ref­er­en­dum on Oc­to­ber 1.

Separatists said 90 per cent of vot­ers opted for in­de­pen­dence, but crit­ics counter that pro-unity sup­port­ers had boy­cotted a plebiscite that vi­o­lated Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion. In re­sponse, the govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy sus­pended Cata­lan au­ton­omy, dis­miss­ing its par­lia­ment and govern­ment and or­gan­is­ing new regional elec­tions for De­cem­ber 21.

A judge in Madrid last week or­dered that eight mem­bers of Mr Puigde­mont’s sacked govern­ment be de­tained for their role in the se­ces­sion drive.

Ms For­cadell’s spokesman said as Speaker she did not “have the free­dom to stop a vote” in the cham­ber on in­de­pen­dence.

Mr Puigde­mont and four for­mer Cata­lan min­is­ters are in self­im­posed ex­ile in Bel­gium and are due to ap­pear be­fore a judge next week af­ter Madrid is­sued an EUwide war­rant for their ex­tra­di­tion. The 54-year-old de­posed leader has ig­nored a sum­mons to ap­pear be­fore a judge in Madrid, say­ing he wants guar­an­tees he will re­ceive a fair trial.

His pres­ence in Brus­sels, the Euro­pean cap­i­tal, has raised fears of stok­ing ten­sions in Bel­gium af­ter Flem­ish separatists in the rul­ing coali­tion there spoke out in sup­port of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence.

Mr Puigde­mont in a let­ter to the Cata­lan daily El Punt Avui called for “the lib­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers held by the Span­ish state”. He tweeted that Ms For­cadell had “to sleep in jail for hav­ing al­lowed a demo­cratic de­bate”.

How­ever, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said the jailed min­is­ters could not be con­sid­ered po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers as they are ac­cused of acts that may con­sti­tute a crim­i­nal of­fence.

GETTY IM­AGES

Carme For­cadell ar­rives at court in Madrid yes­ter­day

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