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Catalan leader warns against guilty verdict in separatists' trial

Catalan leader warns against guilty verdict in separatists' trial
FILE PHOTO: Catalan Regional President Quim Torra is seen ahead of a rally of Catalan separatist organisations, in Madrid, Spain March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo -
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MADRID (Reuters) – The head of Catalonia’s government said on Thursday that a guilty verdict for Catalan leaders on trial over their role in the region’s failed independence bid would further fuel separatists’ efforts to break away from Spain.

Catalonia’s independence drive has overshadowed Spanish politics for years, triggering Spain’s biggest crisis in decades in 2017, and helped bring about inconclusive national elections in April.

The wealthy northern region will once again feature high on Spain’s political agenda with a Supreme Court’s ruling on 12 Catalan separatist leaders expected soon, likely in October.

They face years in jail – the prosecutor is seeking sentences of 7 to 25 years – over charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds for their role in a 2017 independence referendum banned by courts, and the short-lived independence declaration that followed.

Nine of them are in jail pending sentence.

“The trial’s verdict, if it’s not a non-guilty one, will take us to a new stage, to take the initiative again and firmly embark on the path leading to independence,” Catalan government chief Quim Torra said at a conference in Madrid.

He added that a guilty ruling would be an “aberrant injustice” and that the sentence would measure “Spain’s democratic quality.”

Catalonia’s leaders defied a judicial ban by carrying out the referendum in 2017. The confrontation saw police wielding batons at crowds seeking to vote in the banned ballot and prompted the then-conservative to impose direct rule from Madrid on the region.

Torra said that, if the 12 politicians and activists were not acquitted, he would put forward a plan to head towards secession from Spain. He did not say what those steps would be and insisted he would seek the maximum consensus among Catalan parties.

Separately, the separatist Catalan leader said that his party’s lawmakers would not support Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez to get reelected by Congress, barring some very unexpected turn of events.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander, William Maclean)

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