News Spain to seek charges against Cat­alo­nia’s lead­ers

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Aritz PARRA, Elena BE­CA­TOROS

BARCELONA, Spain — Spain’s state pros­e­cu­tor said Mon­day that he would seek charges of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment against mem­bers of Cat­alo­nia’s ousted se­ces­sion­ist gov­ern­ment, push­ing the cri­sis over the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion into an un­cer­tain new phase.

Chief pros­e­cu­tor Jose Manuel Maza said he would ask judges for pre­ven­tive mea­sures against the politi­cians and the gov­ern­ing body of the Cata­lan par­lia­ment that al­lowed a vote to de­clare in­de­pen­dence last week.

He didn’t spec­ify if those would in­clude their im­me­di­ate ar­rest and de­ten­tion be­fore trial.

The re­bel­lion, sedi­tion and em­bez­zle­ment charges carry max­i­mum sen­tences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, re­spec­tively.

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear when judges would rule on the prose­cu­tors’ re­quest.

Maza didn’t name any of those fac­ing charges, but they in­clude re­gional leader Car­les Puigde­mont, his No. 2 Oriol Jun­queras and Cata­lan par­lia­men­tary speaker Carme For­cadell.

The an­nounce­ment came as Cat­alo­nia’s civil ser­vants re­turned to work for the first time since Spain dis­missed the separatist re­gional gov­ern­ment and im­posed di­rect con­trol.

In ad­di­tion to the sedi­tion charges, Spain’s gov­ern­ment has said the fired lead­ers could be charged with usurp­ing oth­ers’ func­tions if they at­tempt to carry on work­ing.

Puigde­mont trav­elled to Brus­sels, ac­cord­ing to a Span­ish gov­ern­ment an of­fi­cial who re­quested anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rized to be named in me­dia re­ports.

The trip came af­ter Bel­gian Asy­lum State Sec­re­tary Theo Francken said over the week­end that it would be “not un­re­al­is­tic” for Puigde­mont to re­quest asy­lum.

The un­cer­tainty over Puigde­mont’s where­abouts and his plans con­tin­ued the game of po­lit­i­cal cat-and­mouse with which the Cata­lan leader has tor­mented the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Also Mon­day, Puigde­mont’s party in­di­cated it is ready to fight in the Dec. 21 early re­gional elec­tion called by the na­tional gov­ern­ment, scotch­ing fears the pro-in­de­pen­dence par­ties might boy­cott the bal­lot to deny it le­git­i­macy. The cen­tre-right PDeCAT party vowed to de­feat pro-union po­lit­i­cal forces in Cat­alo­nia.

As dozens of jour­nal­ists, cu­ri­ous on­look­ers and be­mused tourists gath­ered in the square out­side the Gothic gov­ern­ment palace in cen­tral Barcelona, res­i­dents ex­pressed con­fu­sion about who was ac­tu­ally in charge of Cat­alo­nia.

“I don’t know - the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment says they are in charge, but the Span­ish gov­ern­ment says they are,” said Cristina Guillen, an em­ployee in a nearby bag shop. “So I have no idea, re­ally.

“What I re­ally think is that no­body is in charge right now,” she said.

At least one por­trait of Puigde­mont was still hang­ing on a wall in­side the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment’s Gen­er­al­i­tat build­ing.

At least one mem­ber of the ousted gov­ern­ment defied his dis­missal by show­ing up at work and post­ing a photo on Twit­ter from his for­mal of­fice.

“In the of­fice, ex­er­cis­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties en­trusted to us by the peo­ple of Cat­alo­nia,” said Josep Rull, who un­til last week was the re­gion’s top of­fi­cial in charge of ter­ri­to­rial af­fairs.

Two po­lice of­fi­cers en­tered and left the build­ing, fol­lowed min­utes later by Rull, who told re­porters and sup­port­ers that he would con­tinue car­ry­ing out his agenda.

But there were no of­fi­cial events listed on the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s pub­lic agenda that is pub­lished on­line daily.

Mean­while, the two separatist par­ties in the for­mer Cata­lan gov­ern­ing coali­tion held sep­a­rate meet­ings to de­cide their next move.

Span­ish au­thor­i­ties say de­posed of­fi­cials will be al­lowed to take their per­sonal be­long­ings from of­fi­cial build­ings, but are barred from per­form­ing any of­fi­cial du­ties.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Juan Ig­na­cio Zoido said Mon­day that the gov­ern­ment was giv­ing the separatist politi­cians “a few hours” of time be­cause the goal was “to re­cover nor­mal­ity in a dis­creet way and un­der the prin­ci­ple of min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion” from cen­tral au­thor­i­ties.

Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional par­lia­ment pro­claimed in­de­pen­dence from Spain in a se­cret bal­lot Fri­day. The Span­ish gov­ern­ment dis­solved the leg­is­la­ture, fired the gov­ern­ment and re­gional po­lice chief and called a new elec­tion for Dec. 21.

Span­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Al­fonso Dastis said Sun­day that Puigde­mont would be el­i­gi­ble to run in the elec­tion, pro­vided he is not im­pris­oned.

“I don’t know what kind of ju­di­cial ac­tiv­ity will hap­pen be­tween now and Dec. 21. If he is not put in jail at that time I think he is not in­el­i­gi­ble,” Dastis told The As­so­ci­ated Press, speak­ing be­fore prose­cu­tors an­nounced they were seek­ing charges.

The vote to se­cede came af­ter an Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum in favour of in­de­pen­dence that was deemed il­le­gal by Spain’s con­sti­tu­tional court.

Puigde­mont has vowed peace­ful and “demo­cratic op­po­si­tion” to his Cabi­net’s dis­missal, but he hasn’t clar­i­fied if that means ac­cept­ing an early re­gional elec­tion as a way out of the dead­lock.

Separatist par­ties and grass­roots groups have spo­ken of wag­ing a cam­paign of dis­obe­di­ence to ham­per the ef­forts by cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to run the re­gion.

A key fac­tor will be how Cat­alo­nia’s es­ti­mated 200,000 pub­lic work­ers re­act to their bosses’ dis­missal, and whether any stay away from work in protest.

Se­ces­sion moves by this wealthy north­east­ern re­gion of 7.5 mil­lion have tipped Spain into its deep­est cri­sis in decades.

On Sun­day, hun­dreds of thou­sands took part in an anti-in­de­pen­dence demon­stra­tion in Barcelona, call­ing for Cat­alo­nia to re­main in Spain and back­ing Ra­joy’s use of un­prece­dented con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to wrest con­trol from the pro-in­de­pen­dence re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Span­ish fi­nan­cial mar­kets rose Mon­day af­ter a poll sug­gested more Cata­lans op­pose the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence than sup­port it.

The Ibex 35 stock in­dex was up 1.4 per cent at 10,338 points, about as much as it had fallen on Fri­day. Span­ish gov­ern­ment bonds were also higher. Jill Lawless in Barcelona, and Carlo Pio­vano in Lon­don, con­trib­uted to this story. Na­tion­al­ist ac­tivists march dur­ing a mass rally against Cat­alo­nia’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in Barcelona, Spain on Sun­day. Thou­sands of op­po­nents of in­de­pen­dence for Cat­alo­nia held the rally on one of the city’s main av­enues af­ter one of the coun­try’s most tu­mul­tuous days in decades.

AP PHOTO

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