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Wednesday January 17, 2018 01:30 PM

Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near

Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near
Civil servants shout pro-independence slogans during the protest asking for the release of leaders currently jailed in Barcelona, Spain December 4, 2017REUTERS

Catalans remain deeply split on independence, and several polls suggest pro-secession parties might struggle to win enough seats to form a new regional government

Catalonia’s sacked vice president Oriol Junqueras and three other separatist leaders will remain in prison during a probe over their role in the region’s independence drive, a Spanish judge decided on Monday, as critical Catalan elections approach.

Six other former ministers who were also remanded in custody last month will be released on bail of $119,000 each as an investigation into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds continues, the Madrid court said in a statement.

The decision comes as axed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attended an extradition hearing in Belgium, where he escaped to after his region’s parliament declared independence on October 27, claiming he would not get a fair trial at home.

Spain is seeking to have Puigdemont and four of his former ministers who fled with him sent back to face charges over their role in the independence drive.

The Belgian judge will decide on December 14 whether to grant the European arrest warrant, their lawyers said after the hearing.

Separatist bloc divided

Catalans remain deeply split on independence, and several polls suggest pro-secession parties might struggle to win enough seats to form a new regional government.

A poll carried out in November by the central government’s influential Sociological Research Centre (CIS) predicted that the three pro-independence parties would get only up to 67 parliamentary seats out of 135, just under the absolute majority of 68.

In 2015 those same parties won 72 seats, which allowed them to form the largest bloc in the region’s parliament.

But this time around, pro-independence parties are running on separate lists.

Junqueras hopes to lead his ERC, which is ahead in the polls, to victory on December 21.

Puigdemont launched his campaign last month from Brussels with a flurry of high-profile media appearances and a demand that he be returned as the “legitimate” president of Catalonia.

His lawyer said at the weekend that he would remain in Belgium until after the Catalan elections, which indicates he will campaign from there.

“No matter what, they will be (in Brussels) till at least December 21 and according to my calculations this could go on till mid-January,” lawyer Jaume Alonso Cuevillas told Catalan radio Rac1.

“I am convinced that no matter what happens they will have recourse to an appeal,” he said.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and fellow opponents of Catalan independence, meanwhile, have hitched their hopes on a record turnout on December 21 to return a legislature in favour of unity with Spain.

 

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