Catalonia crisis: Hundreds of thousands of protesters demand release of jailed separatist leaders | News | DW | 17.10.2017
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Catalonia crisis: Hundreds of thousands of protesters demand release of jailed separatist leaders

Around 200,000 people rallied in Barcelona calling for two pro-independence leaders to be released from jail. A court in Madrid said they implemented a "complex strategy" to push Catalonia towards independence.

Around 200,000 people gathered on Tuesday in Barcelona to protest against the detention of two pro-Catalan independence leaders on charges of sedition. Organizers said more rallies were planned.

Candle-lit demonstrations were also held in Girona, Reus and other Catalan cities in protest at the Madrid-based National Court's Monday ruling to keep Jordi Cuixart, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, and Jordi Sanchez, the leader of the pro-independence organization Omnium Cultural, behind bars pending investigations into sedition charges.

Before the evening protests, Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said regional ministers would take part, but not Puigdemont. He called on people to remain calm. "It's the best tribute we can offer them," he said, referring to Sanchez and Cuixart.

Read more: Opinion: EU should learn from the Catalan crisis

The judge said both men had used social media to organize protests on September 20-21 to impede police who were trying to dismantle preparations for the October 1 independence referendum.

Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez

A Spanish judge argued that Jordi Cuixart und Jordi Sanchez implemented a "complex strategy" in the run-up to the October 1 referendum to push Catalonia towards independence

Will Catalonia stand down?

The Spanish government said on Monday that Catalan leaders have until Thursday to clarify whether the region declared independence.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont had issued a symbolic independence declaration on October 10, but suspended it moments later to seek negotiations with Madrid. Spain's government had given him until Monday to clarify whether his government formally declared independence, which he refused to do, instead reiterating his call for the central government to enter talks.

The Catalan government has not yet formally responded to the renewed ultimatum, but Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull said on Tuesday that Catalonia would not back down.

"Giving in forms no part of this government's scenarios," he said. "On Thursday, we won't give anything different than what we gave on Monday."

Watch video 26:00

Barcelona against Madrid: Will Spain break up?

Read more: Spain's Article 155: the constitution's 'nuclear option'

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy may decide to suspend Catalonia's autonomy by triggering Article 155 of the Spanish constitution if the regional government fails to respond to the ultimatum.

Invoking Franco

Spain has been gripped by a constitutional standoff between Madrid and Barcelona since a majority of voters in the autonomous region voted for independence in the disputed October 1 referendum.

On Tuesday, Spain's constitutional court officially declared the referendum illegal because it went against the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation."

The ruling followed the court's decision in early September to suspend the law backing the referendum until it could determine whether the law was constitutional. But Turull said on Tuesday he was not surprised by the court's newest decision.

"What the Franco-era Public Order Tribunal never got round to doing was done by its 21st century judicial heir," he said.

"We are facing an executive power in the state that uses the judiciary branch to block the legislative," Turull said.

Francisco Franco ruled Spain as a dictatorship between 1936 and 1976. His government imprisoned many political opponents and took actions to suppress the Catalan language and the region's unique culture.

amp/ls (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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