Catalan parliament speaker detained over independence bid

Carme Forcadell, Speaker of the Catalan parliament, arrives to Spain's Supreme Court in Madrid, Spain, on Nov 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (AFP) - The speaker of Catalonia's sacked parliament was ordered detained over her region's controversial drive for independence from Spain, pending payment of a 150,000-euro (S$ 237,106) bail, a court spokesman said.

Carme Forcadell and five other deputies appeared in front of Spain's highest tribunal on Thursday (Nov 9) on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds - which carry a maximum jail sentence of 30 years - for aiding the Catalan parliament's secession bid.

They are suspected of having followed a "concerted strategy to declare independence", before the official declaration on Oct 27, deepening Spain's most serious political crisis in decades.

That declaration was annulled on Wednesday by Spain's Constitutional Court. Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena ordered one Catalan lawmaker freed, but the four others apart from . Forcadell must pay 25,000 euros within a week to avoid jail.

The Catalan crisis has prompted hundreds of businesses to re-register outside the wealthy north-eastern region and caused disquiet in a European Union still dealing with Britain's shock decision to leave the bloc.

On Wednesday, a general strike called in Catalonia by a pro-independence union triggered widespread travel chaos, cutting Spain's main highway link to France and the rest of Europe and disrupting trains from Barcelona to Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Authorities said around 150,000 people were affected.

Encouraged by their figurehead Carles Puigdemont, Catalan leaders voted to declare unilateral independence from Spain after going ahead with a banned referendum on Oct 1. Separatists said 90 per cent of voters opted for independence, but critics counter that pro-unity supporters had boycotted a plebiscite that violated Spain's constitution.

In response, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suspended Catalan autonomy dismissing its parliament and government, and organised new regional elections for Dec 21.

A judge in Madrid last week ordered that eight members of Puigdemont's sacked government be detained for their role in the secession drive.

Forcadell's spokesman told reporters that as Catalan parliamentary speaker, she didn't "have the freedom to stop a vote" in the chamber on independence.

Outside the court on Thursday, a small group of protesters gathered, holding banners against independence. There were also a handful of separatist supporters, facing opposition cries of "Jail for Puigdemont!"

Puigdemont and four former Catalan ministers are in self-imposed exile in Belgium and are due to appear before a judge next week after Madrid issued an EU-wide warrant for their extradition.

The 54-year-old deposed leader has ignored a summons to appear before a judge in Madrid, saying he wants guarantees he will receive a fair trial.

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