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13 Catalan politicians charged with rebellion over independence bid

Judge Pablo Llarena ordered five of the politicians who answered a court summons to be held without bail.

A Spanish Supreme Court judge has charged 13 Catalan separatist politicians with rebellion for their attempts to make the region independent of Spain.

The move deals a heavy blow to the secessionist movement with an indictment that could put its political elite behind bars for decades.

Judge Pablo Llarena ordered five of the Catalan politicians who answered a court summons on Friday to be held without bail.

Another of the summoned politicians, the ERC party’s Marta Rovira, did not heed the order and announced in a letter that she was fleeing the country to live “in exile”. Spanish media reported that she went to Switzerland.

The judge also ordered that European and international arrest warrants be issued for six fugitive Catalan politicians, including former regional president Carles Puigdemont and Rovira. Two other Catalan politicians are already in jail.

The charges of rebellion stem from an illegal independence declaration by the Catalan parliament last October. Rebellion is punishable with up to 30 years in prison.

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Marta Rovira (Paul White/AP)

Spanish courts sought Mr Puigdemont’s extradition from Brussels last year but cancelled that petition amid concerns that Belgium might send him back but restrict the crimes with which he could be charged.

The jailings on Friday are likely to cause outrage in Catalonia, where many supporters describe the Catalan officials in custody as “political prisoners”. The pro-independence civil society group ANC called for marches in towns across the region.

The separatist movement in Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million in north-east Spain, has ignited Spain’s biggest constitutional crisis in decades. The indictment on Friday appeared to scotch hopes of breaking the political deadlock and installing a new Catalan government any time soon.

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Spain Catalonia

Pro-independence political parties and civic groups in Catalonia have defied the Spanish government for the past six months with efforts to secede from Spain and create a new republic. They have repeatedly fallen foul of the courts and the constitution.

Polls show Catalans are equally divided on the secession issue, although a vast majority support holding a legal referendum on the issue.

Legal and political constraints have prevented the slim separatist majority in Catalonia’s parliament from electing a regional president and government since a December election.

The latest failure, on Thursday, started a two-month countdown for either a government to be formed or for another ballot in the restive region.

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Catalan presidential candidate Jordi Turull, right, and former cabinet member Josep Rull arrive at the Supreme Court in Madrid (Francisco Seco/AP)

One of those jailed on Friday was former Catalan government minister Jordi Turull, the third candidate since the December election to become Catalan president.

Mr Turull failed to gain enough votes from regional lawmakers on Thursday but in theory had a second chance to be voted in on Saturday by a simple majority.

It was unclear if Saturday’s parliamentary vote could go ahead without Mr Turull’s physical presence.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declined to comment on the legal issues but said he is not enthusiastic about calling another regional election in Catalonia.

Mr Rajoy said he does not like repeat elections, explaining that “people vote and politicians have a duty to resolve problems and not create others”.

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

Others charged with rebellion were former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, who is already in detention; seven other members of the ousted Catalan government; former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and jailed separatist activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Mr Puigdemont appeared unshaken by the charges.

“Let’s see what happens tomorrow, what happens today. Every day things change,” Mr Puigdemont said in Helsinki, where he was on a visit.

He also criticised the judge’s decision, suggesting Mr Llarena was influenced by the political climate.

“It is not right for a judge to do politics,” Mr Puigdemont said.

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