MADRID: A judge in Madrid, on Thursday, ordered ministers of Catalonia’s deposed government to be held in jail pending further probes into their role in the regional government’s quest for independence, prompting calls for protests in Barcelona and other cities.
Accused of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, Catalonia’s former Vice President, Oriol Junqueras and seven other deposed regional ministers were headed for detention after another day of drama in Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
A ninth former minister, who resigned just before the Catalan parliament declared independence on Friday, was also remanded in jail but will be set free if he pays bail of 50,000 euros ($58,000).
Grassroots independence association ANC called “peaceful but firm” protests for 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona and city halls around Catalonia.
Independence supporters have urged more protests on Friday night and a big rally on November 12th, in Barcelona. The pro-independence umbrella group, ‘Crida Democracia’, called for a week of demonstrations.
Spanish prosecutors also sought a European arrest warrant for Catalonia’s axed leader Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium and refused to show up to be questioned by the same judge.
In her ruling, Judge Carmen Lamela said she had ordered preventive detention for the former ministers as she believed there was a risk they could escape, given Puigdemont had gone to Belgium.
Four other ministers also failed to turn up, and prosecutors asked that they too are arrested.
“Let’s not forget the purchasing power of the defendants, which allows them to easily leave the Spanish territory and live abroad,” Lamela argued in her ruling.
“Let’s remember, some of the defendants have already gone to other countries, dodging possible penal responsibilities.”
A total of 19 people including Puigdemont, Junqueras and the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament were questioned on Thursday.
A hearing of the speaker and five others at the Supreme Court was adjourned until November 9th, after their lawyers requested more time to prepare their defence.
Tweeting after the order for his detention, Junqueras said: “Every day, do all you can so that good defeats evil in the polls on 21D. Stay determined until you achieve victory.”
He was referring to regional elections called on December 21st, by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a bid to ‘restore normality’ to a region rocked by the secession bid.
“The conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish state won’t be resolved through courts and violence,” former Catalan president Artur Mas, in Madrid to show his support, said earlier.
“The more fuel you add to the fire, the bigger it becomes.”
Catalan demands independence date back centuries but has surged in recent years, in part due to a difficult economic situation.
Puigdemont’s government organised an independence referendum on October 1st, despite a court ban.
Spanish police tried and failed to stop it, in some cases firing rubber bullets at people defending polling stations.
A declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament followed last Friday, greeted by celebrations on the streets of Barcelona.
But that same day, Rajoy’s government dismissed the regional government, imposed direct rule on Catalonia and called the December elections.
Marta Rovira, a lawyer and Catalan separatist lawmaker, briefly broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters in Madrid after the announcement of the detentions.
“The Spanish state is a failed state, a state that has failed democratically,” she said. “I’m convinced we won’t surrender, we won’t, and we will fight until the end.”
In Barcelona earlier Thursday, several hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the regional government chanting “freedom” and “Puigdemont is our president”.
“(Puigdemont) hasn’t fled, it is a political strategy… forcing the EU to take a stand,” said Jorde Segu, 68, a retiree. “He’s a hero,” added Secretary Lidia Amoraga, 62.
Catalans, fiercely proud of their language and culture, remain deeply divided about independence, polls indicate.
The European Union, several members who disgruntled the regions, swung firmly behind Rajoy.
In addition, there are signs of growing divisions in the separatist camp, with many unhappy with Puigdemont, particularly now he is hundreds of miles away.
Spain’s central bank also warned on Thursday, that the region risks suffering an economic recession if the strife continues.