Spanish Supreme Court judge order sending Catalan separatists into jail

Spanish Supreme Court judge order sending Catalan separatists into jail

Announcing the rebellion charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years' imprisonment, Llarena said Catalan separatist politicians and grassroots groups had "colluded" for the past six years to draw up a plan for regional independence in defiance of Spain's legal and constitutional order.

More than 20 people were injured as police used riot batons to keep protesters away from federal buildings in Barcelona on Friday night.

Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took over its regional government after it unilaterally declared independence following the October plebiscite.

Supreme court judge Pablo Llarena ruled that 13 Catalan leaders be put on trial for their part in last year's Catalonia independence referendum.

Since then Catalonia's former president, Carles Puigdemont, has been in self-imposed exile in Brussels and would likely be arrested if he returned to Spain. Two other Catalan politicians are already in jail.

What happened in the protests?

Marta Rovira, secretary general of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party, failed to appear in court and announced that she had fled the country.

The supreme court judge did not mention the treatment meted out by police on voters queueing by polling stations, images of which were flashed around the world.

Tensions spilled over into violence as some protesters tried to break through police lines.

Another, calmer, rally filled the huge Catalonia Square in central Barcelona.

Catalan television aired footage of more crowds in towns in the region, including Vic and Tarragona. Catalan ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras, the region's former Interior Minister Joaquim Forn, and two prominent leaders of pro-independence civil organizations, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, were imprisoned in the aftermath of last October's contested independence referendum.

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In his ruling, Llarena said 25 Catalan separatists in all will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience. They deny all the allegations.

A judge said the five were serious flight risks.

The five join four other Catalan leaders already detained in prison.

"Exile will be a hard road, but it is the only way I have to recover my political voice", Ms Rovira said in a letter.

Spanish media reported that she had fled into exile in Switzerland.

The court also issued worldwide arrest warrants for six other Catalan figures who have fled overseas, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont.

What other reaction has there been?

"The decisions of the supreme court are arbitrary: they are not justice, they are the revenge of an authoritarian state", said Carles Campuzano of the Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCAT).

The court's decision will likely put an end to a planned vote this Saturday at the Catalan regional parliament to pick a new leader after Mr Puigdemont's departure previous year.

The judicial action in recent weeks has hit the Catalan independence movement, with some of its main players giving up their public roles while others have toned down their rhetoric.

In a setback for the pro-independence cause, a survey published by the respected Catalan Centre for Opinion Studies recently suggested support for independence had dropped sharply, with a majority of Catalans now against the idea.

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