Artur Mas has had his first day in court over the 2014 Catalan independence referendum. He has taken "full responsibility" for the ballot, while simultaneously denying the charges against him.
Catalonia's president, Artur Mas, went before a judge on Thursday to answer charges civil disobedience after holding an illegal referendum. Despite a ban issued by Spain's Constitutional Court, Mas, who has made no secret of his desire to break away and form an autonomous Catalan state, held a non-binding independence ballot last year.
Other members of the Catalan government and the mayors of some 400 towns in the region illustrated their solidarity by accompanying him to the courthouse, while thousands of demonstrators cheered their support for Mas on the building's steps.
"Independence! Independence!" they chanted.
Mas takes sole responsibility for illegal vote
Speaking at a news conference after being questioned by the judge, 59-year-old Mas told the press that "I declare myself to have full responsibility for taking the political initiative" in defiance of Madrid.
He added the caveat, however, that he was merely "responsible for having listened to hundreds of thousands of people who peacefully filled the streets and squares of Catalonia."
Emboldened by Scotland's September 2014 independence referendum, Mas announced his plans to hold a similar vote in Catalonia, though unlike Scotland's it would serve to gauge opinion and not be legally binding. The Spanish government immediately moved to block the vote, arguing that the Spanish constitution says all Spaniards must be allowed to vote on matters of sovereignty.
The ban was upheld by Madrid's conservative high court.
Despite the court's decision, Mas went ahead with the vote in November 2014, with 1.9 million of the 2.3 million Catalonians who cast a ballot supporting independence. In September loacl elections, shortly before Mas was indicted by the court, his separtists won a majority in Barcelona's parliament.
The Catalan president was then charged with holding an illegal referendum and abuse of authority. He and his two codefendants deny the charges.
es/msh (AP, AFP)