Catalan separatists face charges
Spain accuses ousted officials of rebellion, sedition crimes
BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish authorities on Monday charged at least 20 separatist leaders in Catalonia with rebellion and sedition, crimes that carry maximum sentences of decades in prison.
Catalonia’s ousted regional president, Carles Puigdemont; his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras; and the speaker of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Carme Forcadell, were among those charged with offenses including sedition, rebellion and the misuse of public funds in the independence-seeking region. Other accused leaders included members of the regional government and some regional lawmakers.
“With their decisions and actions over these last two years, they have provoked an institutional crisis culminating with the unilateral declaration of independence, realized with total disregard for our constitution,” said Spanish Attorney General Jose Manuel Maza.
The charged officials were not immediately arrested. They were asked to present themselves at a Madrid court in the coming days.
However, Puigdemont and other officials have traveled to Brussels, where they could seek political asylum. Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, told that nation’s VRT network that Puigdemont asked him for advice but that the ousted leader “is not in Belgium to specifically ask for political asylum. That is not decided yet.”
Puigdemont is expected to announce his decision during a news conference in Brussels today. Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations.
The charges came on Catalonia’s first working day under the direct rule of Madrid, after the Catalan regional parliament’s unsuccessful efforts to create a new country.
The events were set in motion earlier this month with a referendum that backed a break from Spain. Catalonia’s regional parliament formally declared independence last week, and Spanish authorities countered by stripping Catalan leaders of their powers.
On Monday, however, defiant officials in Catalonia showed up for work. At least one minister of the now-ousted regional government was allowed to enter his offices in an apparent de-escalation by Madrid.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had earlier said he would bar the separatist Catalan leaders from continuing to rule their region. Spain’s interior minister said the leaders would briefly be allowed into their former offices to gather their belongings.
“Continuing with planned agenda,” wrote Josep Rull i Andreu on Twitter, who until Friday was the Catalan minister of land and sustainability. He published a photograph of himself at his computer in his office, but he left about an hour later.
The approach from Madrid suggested that national leaders were trying to avoid a physical confrontation as Catalonia’s secession crisis deepens.
But it also led to confusion. As dozens of journalists, curious onlookers and bemused tourists gathered in the square outside the Gothic government palace in central Barcelona on Monday, 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 at a nearby bag shop. “So I have no idea, really.
“What I really think is that nobody is in charge right now,” she said.
Just a day earlier, an estimated 300,000 Spaniards filled the streets to show they oppose an independent state in Catalonia and support the central government’s takeover of the breakaway republic. It was less a protest than a victory march by people who believed there would be no “Republic of Catalonia.”
Two top leaders of the Catalan secessionist movement are already in jail, held without bail.
The Spanish newspaper El Periodico reported that Spain’s Interior Ministry on Sunday ordered the Catalan regional police stations to take down their portraits of Puigdemont. However, as of late Monday, at least one portrait of Puigdemont was still hanging on a wall inside the Catalan government’s Generalitat building.
After being handed sweeping powers by the Spanish Senate last week, the central government, in the early-morning hours Saturday, published lists of more than 140 Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired.
The Catalan regional parliament was also dissolved by order of Spain, and new elections were scheduled for Dec. 21.
Catalan police officers stand guard Monday next to the Palau de la Generalitat, a historic palace in Barcelona, Spain, that houses Catalan’s presidential offices.