Cata­lan sep­a­ratists face charges

Spain ac­cuses ousted of­fi­cials of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion crimes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Michael Birnbaum and Braden Phillips of The Wash­ing­ton Post and by Aritz Parra, Raf Casert, Jill Lawless, Elena Be­ca­toros, Carlo Pio­vano and staff mem­bers

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.

AP/MANU FERNANDEZ

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.

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