Cata­lan leader flies out as Spain threat­ens re­bel­lion charge

Toronto Star - - WORLD - ARITZ PARRA AND ELENA BE­CATOROS

BARCELONA, SPAIN— Span­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials con­firm that ousted Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont has trav­elled to Brus­sels.

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 de­clared in- de­pen­dence last week. He didn’t spec­ify if those would in­clude their im­me­di­ate ar­rest and de­ten­tion be­fore trial.

Maza didn’t name any of those fac­ing charges, but they in­clude 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.

Puigde­mont’s trip to Brus­sels 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 prounion 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 con- fu­sion 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 re- spon­si­bil­i­ties 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.

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

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 the dis­missal of their bosses, and whether any stay away from work in protest.

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