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Catalan leader Quim Torra admits disobeying electoral rules in court hearing

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Catalan regional leader Quim Torra (C) arrives to appear before a judge at the High Court of Justice of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, November 18, 2019.
Catalan regional leader Quim Torra (C) arrives to appear before a judge at the High Court of Justice of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, November 18, 2019. -
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REUTERS/Enrique Calvo
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Catalan leader Quim Torra admitted on Monday disobeying an order from Spain's Central Electoral Board to take down banners featuring separatist symbols from government buildings during the campaigns for municipal and European elections in April and May.

"It was impossible to abide by an illegal order," he told the court as his trial for disobedience began.

If convicted, Torra could be stripped of his mandate, prompting early regional elections in Catalonia.

His hearing comes less than a month after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine other Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in jail for staging an illegal independence referendum and is likely to spark new protests in the restive region.

The prosecution is seeking a 20-month ban on holding public office and a €30,000 fine.

It argues that the banners flouted rules on institutional neutrality.

READ MORE: Madrid urged to 'sit down and talk' with Catalan regional leaders

Torra, meanwhile, argued that the order to take down the banners was "illegal" and that some of them were not political but part of the region's heritage.

A guilty verdict from the regional High Court could lead to Torra losing his mandate and to fresh regional elections. He could, however, appeal to the country's Supreme Court, whose ruling is final.

Torra was elected president of the Government of Catalonia in May 2018 following regional elections held the previous December when the region was under direct rule from Madrid following the independence referendum and after courts blocked three other candidates.

Not currently affiliated to any political formation, Torra ran for office under an alliance with the Junts per Catalunya party led by Carles Puigdemont — the former regional leader removed from office after the unilateral declaration of Catalonia independence.

Puigdemont, who has been in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is to appear in front of a Brussels court next month, which will decide whether to extradite him to Spain where he faces charges of sedition.

READ MORE: Catalan regional leader Quim Torra calls for amnesty for convicted separatists

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