Catalan lawmakers testifying in separatist rebellion

MADRID (AP) – Six Catalan lawmakers testified yesterday before a Spanish judge over claims that they ignored Constitutional Court orders and allowed an independence vote in Catalonia’s regional parliament.

The Catalan parliament’s speaker, Carme Forcadell, was the first to be questioned by Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena and two prosecutors. Together with five other members of the parliament’s governing body, she faces possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement.

Under Spanish law, the crimes are punishable with up to 30 years of imprisonment.

The judge is set to decide after questioning them if any preventive measures, including ordering them to be taken into custody, are to be applied while the investigation continues.

The October 27 independence declaration in the Catalan parliament was boycotted by most opposition lawmakers but held despite previous court rulings. It was passed by 70 votes to 10 in the 135-seat legislative body.

Right-wind protesters holding Spanish flags reading, ‘Long live a united Spain’ shout slogans outside the Supreme Court in Madrid yesterday. – AP

Shortly after, Spain’s central authorities seized control of the wealthy northeastern region, making it the first time in four decades since the end of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that Madrid removed powers from any of the country’s 17 regions.

Spain removed the regional government, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for December 21.

Catalonia’s deposed regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his dismissed Cabinet members fled to Brussels, where they are fighting Spanish arrest and extradition orders.

In a letter posted on social media yesterday, the five made a call for support for pro-secession parties in Catalonia’s upcoming regional election.

“It’s time to drive away from the (Catalan) institutions those who want to own them with a coup d’etat,” Puigdemont tweeted, referring to Spain’s decision to take control of Catalonia’s powers.

Puigdemont, who is likely to run as the candidate for his centre-right PDeCAT party, said he went to Belgium to rally European support for the Catalan cause and that he’s not trying to evade justice.

Although no country has publicly sided with them so far, their presence in the Belgian capital is sowing divisions among politicians. In yesterday’s letter, the ousted Catalan Cabinet criticised the European Union (EU) for turning a blind eye to the Catalonia’s plight.

“The time that we spend behind Spanish bars or in exile won’t be in vain if we remain united in the defence of Catalonia and in denouncing the democratic decadence of Spain,” the letter said.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said yesterday his government’s policy on Catalonia has the “100 per cent backing” of other EU countries.

Rajoy said during a visit to the city of Salamanca, about 220 kilometres northwest of Madrid, that he hoped voters “meet their obligations as Spaniards and Europeans” in next month’s early regional election. He said “a lot will be decided” by the ballot and urged a big turnout. Rajoy believed most Catalans don’t want to break away from Spain.