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Spain's trial of the century; Gordon Banks dies; and EU flags in French classrooms | Europe briefing

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Spain's trial of the century; Gordon Banks dies; and EU flags in French classrooms | Europe briefing
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1. Spain's trial of the century begins in Madrid

A dozen political chiefs from Catalonia went on trial in Madrid today.

They are charged over their role in a failed bid to split from the rest of Spain in 2017 after Catalans voted for independence in a banned referendum.

It prompted the then ruling Conservatives to impose direct rule from Madrid, dissolve Catalonia’s parliament and call snap elections.

The new poll saw Catalan nationalists triumph.

Tens of thousands of protesters hit the streets on Sunday to protest dialogue between Catalan separatists and the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Supporters of the defendants say they are political prisoners and that the trial itself is political.

Today’s trial, at Spain’s high court in Madrid, will see the 12 defendants face charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Ex-Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont, in self-imposed exile in Germany, said he wanted to return to Spain to face justice but that the country was "not a real democracy".

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2. England's World Cup-winning goalkeeper dies

Gordon Banks, who won the 1966 World Cup with England, has died, aged 81.

"It is with great sadness that we announce that Gordon passed away peacefully overnight," a statement from his family read.

"We are devastated to lose him but we have so many happy memories and could not have been more proud of him."

Banks was between the sticks when England beat West Germany 4-2 in July 1966 at Wembley, the Three Lions’ last major triumph.

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3. French and EU flags ‘mandatory in classrooms’

MPs have voted for the mandatory presence of French and EU flags in every school classroom.

They also backed moves for the words of the national anthem — La Marseillaise — to be present too.

The flags are already shown outside such establishments, but this move makes them mandatory in classrooms too.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the changes could be made relatively easily and cost-effectively by putting up posters.

But leftist MP Michel Larive said flags outside schools were sufficient for respecting France’s heritage without being too nationalist.

“Schools are not [military] barracks,” he added.

4. Key advisor to Macron quits

France’s embattled president, Emmanuel Macron, has suffered a fresh blow: the departure of a key advisor.

Ismael Emelien joined a wave of departures from the Elysee that has included communications advisors Sylvain Fort and Barbara Frugier, and political strategist Stephane Sejourne.

It comes as Macron is fighting to quell regular “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) demonstrations across France.

Emelien, one of Macron's most loyal aides, said on Monday he would leave in late March or early April while affirming that his departure was unrelated to the so-called Benalla affair.

Alexandre Benalla, the former security advisor, was eventually sacked after footage emerged of him beating demonstrators last May, but the affair left lingering suspicions of an attempted cover-up.

READ MORE: Why is the Benalla scandal controversial for Macron's government? Euronews explains

5. Anti-semitism 'spreading like poison' in France

Anti-semitic acts in France rose by 74% last year, the French government has said.

There were 541 such incidents in 2018.

France's interior minister on Monday visited a Paris suburb where a tree in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death in 2006 had been chopped down.

Christophe Castaner said that "anti-semitism was spreading like poison".