Catalan politicians quizzed in Spain rebellion case

Fired Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras arrives at the national court in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Some of the 14-member ousted Catalan cabinet were expected to appear before a judge in Madrid on Thursday for questioning as part of a rebellion probe for pushing ahead with a declaration of independence from Spain. (AP Photo/Paul White)

By CIARAN GILES and ARITZ PARRA, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Spain’s National Court in Madrid was questioning ousted Catalan government members Thursday in an investigation into possible rebellion charges for having declared the region’s independence, while a parallel Supreme Court session for six Catalan lawmakers was suspended for a week.
Twenty regional politicians, including fired regional government president Carles Puigdemont, were called to appear after the chief prosecutor demanded they be charged with rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the Catalan parliament’s declaration of secession Oct. 27. The crimes are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.
The group summoned includes Puigdemont’s 13-member former Cabinet and six parliamentary board members.
Puigdemont, who traveled to Belgium with some of his ex-Cabinet members, remained in Brussels along with four of his former ministers. Their failure to appear before the court could trigger arrest warrants and an extradition petition.
Puigdemont’s No. 2, Catalan ex-vice president Oriol Junqueras, was the first to arrive at the National Court. He went in accompanied by lawyers, passing by dozens of journalists, and declined to answer questions. The National Court procedures began with the appearance of former Catalan regional government spokesman Jordi Turull, followed by Josep Rull, who had handled the region’s territorial affairs.
But a corresponding session in the Supreme Court for six regional parliament members, including Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, one of the leading figures of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia for many years, was suspended until Nov. 9 following a request by the lawmakers’ lawyers.
Spain took the unprecedented step of seizing control of Catalonia following the declaration and later sacked the regional Cabinet, dissolved the regional parliament and called a new regional election for Dec. 21.
Puigdemont said he and several of his former ministers went to Brussels earlier this week for “freedom and safety.” Four of the ex-ministers remained in Brussels with him while the others returned and were to be appearing in court.
About two dozen politicians and elected officials from Catalan separatist parties had gathered at the gates of the Supreme Court in a show of support.
“If the question is if in Spain you can trust the judicial system, my answer is no,” said Artur Mas, a former president of the Catalan government. “From the personal point of view and also for my personal experience, I don’t think that there are all the guarantees to have a fair trial.”
Assumpcio Lailla, a former lawmaker with Catalonia’s Democrats party, said she had traveled to Madrid joining around 100 other politicians and elected officials to show support to those investigated in the rebellion probe.
“This is an unjust situation in which they are being investigated for facilitating democracy,” she said. “I don’t understand how Europe can look away from democracy.”
The supporters greeted some of the lawmakers that are being questioned Tuesday at the Supreme Court cheering and shouting: “Freedom, Freedom” and “we are not afraid.”
Across the street, half a dozen protesters with Spanish flags were stopped by police. They shouted at the Catalan politicians, “cowards” and “to jail, to jail.”
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Paolo Santalucia in Madrid, and Elena Becatoros in Barcelona, contributed to this report.
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A previous version of this story has been corrected to show that the first name of the ex-lawmaker from the Democrats party is Assumpcio, not Assumptio.