Catalan leaders, police chief accused of sedition

AFP, MADRID

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 7

Catalonia’s police chief and prominent separatist leaders yesterday appeared in court accused of sedition over unrest in the region’s contested independence drive, escalating Spain’s volatile political conflict.

The national courts cracked down after threats by Catalan leaders to unilaterally declare independence in Spain’s deepest political crisis in a generation.

The national government has vowed to block the move, which Catalan leaders say could come as soon as Monday.

Catalonia’s second-biggest bank said it was shifting its legal headquarters out of the region due to the turbulence.

Catalan regional police chief Josep Lluis Trapero was accused of failing to rein in protesters who clashed last month with national security forces who raided regional government offices in a crackdown against the independence drive.

Trapero went before an investigating judge at Madrid’s National Court, followed by two other defendants: the leaders of Catalonia’s two most prominent pro-independence civil groups — Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

A fourth defendant, senior Catalan police official Teresa Laplana, was due to appear before the judge by video link for health reasons, court officials said.

Tension mounted this week after Catalan leaders on Sunday pushed ahead with an independence referendum, defying the national government and courts.

The vote was marred by violence as national security forces beat unarmed voters and shut down some polling stations.

While lashing out at the central government’s “catastrophic” handling of the crisis, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said he was open to mediation.

However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s office said that the government “will not accept blackmail.”

The Spanish Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the suspension of a session scheduled for Monday in the Catalan parliament at which some leaders have called for an independence declaration.

If Catalonia declares independence, Spain could respond by suspending the region’s existing autonomous status and imposing direct rule from Madrid.

Catalan Parliament Speaker Carme Forcadell said such a move “would just increase support for the pro-independence side.”

She appeared to hint that the regional parliament would push on with Monday’s session, despite the court ban, rejecting the ruling as a breach of “freedom of expression.”

That set up Monday’s planned session as a potential flashpoint, raising the question of how the Spanish state would respond.

Sunday’s violence appalled people everywhere, including Catalans opposed to independence.

With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries, but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

Catalonia is the nation’s richest region, accounting for a fifth of the economy, and is home to thousands of domestic and foreign companies employing millions of people.

Spain’s fifth-biggest bank, Sabadell, on Thursday decided to shift its registered domicile away from Catalonia in an administrative process expected to take a few days, a company spokesman said.

Catalonia’s biggest lender, CaixaBank, was to hold discussions yesterday about possibly shifting its legal domicile out of the region, a source close to the matter said.