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Spain to start trial of Catalan leaders over secession bid

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo, taken on October 1, 2017, then-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont (C) is seen talking to the media next to members of his government in Barcelona, following a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid. (By AFP)

Spain’s highest court is set to open the trials of 12 Catalan independence leaders for their role in Catalonia’s failed secession bid in 2017, which was dismissed as “illegal” by the government in Madrid.

The 12 Catalan politicians will be tried at the Spanish Supreme Court on Tuesday for their role in facilitating an independence referendum in October 2017 and a unilateral independence declaration subsequently passed by separatist parties in the regional Catalan parliament.

Spain’s conservative government at the time removed the then-regional Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and dissolved Catalonia’s parliament, calling snap local elections in December that year.

Some Catalan separatist leaders were arrested. Others, including Puigdemont, fled.

The trials are expected to last for three months.

Raul Romeva, one of the nine defendants jailed without bail since late 2017 facing the charge of rebellion, has said the trials should end with an acquittal.

“A (prison) sentence would weigh forever on history and on Spain’s future,” Romeva told Reuters in an interview conducted by email from jail.

At the time of his arrest, Romeva was foreign minister in Catalonia’s regional government and a member of the European Parliament.

The public prosecutor is seeking prison terms of up to 25 years for the Catalan leaders over charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

‘Spanish PM may call snap elections in spring’

The trials start as the Spanish government, which controls less than a quarter of seats in parliament, faces a key vote on the 2019 budget on Wednesday.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s party has been struggling to drum up enough support to pass the budget bill. Catalan nationalists have said they will vote against it.

Meanwhile, unnamed government sources were cited in a Reuters report as saying on Monday that the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was considering calling early national elections for April 14.

Earlier on, sources had said October was a possible date.

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