Saturday, October 23, 2021

Catalan leaders in exile fail to flee fresh protests in Spain

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A deposed Catalan leader and 8 other allies are to leave Italy’s red and yellow exile flag flying from a balcony at their luxury villa, having almost gone missing as anti-spanish protests broke out in Rome and Barcelona.

Four former separatist leaders of Catalonia are still in jail and, having been denied bail, they were taken to a refugee detention centre after refusing to give a judge their passports last week, rejecting an appeal for freedom.

A measure to appeal against the decision to extend the provisional detention of Carles Puigdemont and his two co-defendants, Jordi Turull and Jordi Cuixart, was rejected by Italy’s constitutional court on Friday, reducing pressure on the Catalan leaders to leave.

The news triggered raucous demonstrations outside their villa in Olbia, which has been surrounded by police for days.

Today’s occasion was deliberately understated, with the radio station, Radio Europe, cutting its “chirp” in favour of a recorded message warning the region that it was “facing the most critical moment since its Catalan nationalhood was claimed in the 20th century”.

Earlier, the house was surrounded by two large traffic barriers, which doubled as barriers for the police who had barricaded the front of the villa.

Those defending Puigdemont have made a show of physical strength, with a small group of the estimated 100 supporters of the ousted Catalan leader hanging from metal grates near the entrance to the house.

Groups of black-clad police in riot gear with shields stood guard across the road.

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The measures in place at his home mirror those used by the Spanish authorities during the Spanish government’s widely condemned policing of Catalan separatists in Catalonia this autumn.

At the time, Spanish policemen seized coup posters outside Puigdemont’s home in the Catalan seaside town of Girona, and in the region of Valencia seized “Catalan flags” and other paraphernalia from homes in those regions.

The Spanish government is using the almost two months since Catalonia’s own parliament authorised the Catalan authorities to declare independence from Spain to try to convince courts and judges to return the disputed region to Madrid’s control.

On Sunday, protesters in central Barcelona turned their backs on the homes of the exiled leaders.

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Around 200 pro-independence supporters waving yellow and red Catalan flags assembled on the steps of La Barca newspaper’s headquarters, with several also taking the opportunity to unfurl posters insulting Barcelona’s police force.

Tensions have risen in the past month as several high-profile political figures linked to the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence have given evidence for prosecutors working on a legal case against the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont.

In his deposition last week, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, addressed the Spanish court in a poolside interview in a Sardinian resort, but avoided her home in Barcelona.

Days later, other ex-leaders of the separatists’ deposed government – Clara Ponsati, Pau Perez and Jordi Cuixart – attended a hearing in Madrid, but failed to turn up in person.

Arnaldo Otegi, a leader of the separatist “Dxi” party and one of the personalities held in pre-trial detention, is due in court on Monday. He is wanted on accusations of tax fraud and false accounts, and is also alleged to have brokered a deal to commit sedition.

The defendants, who all deny wrongdoing, say their homes are being used to obstruct their defence and hamper their work in communicating with supporters abroad.

Puigdemont, who left Spain in October after he was replaced as Catalan president following the regional parliament’s declaration of independence, had been attempting to gain asylum in Belgium. He may now be heading for France instead.

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