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Sacked Catalan parliament speaker is freed on bail

A car carrying Carme Forcadell, Catalan parliament speaker leaves the Alcala Meco prison after getting released on bail in Alcala de Henares, outside Madrid November 10, 2017. — Reuters picMADRID, Nov 11 — The sacked speaker of Catalonia’s parliament left a prison near Madrid yesterday hours after supporters posted her bail of €150,000, ending her brief detention over the region’s controversial independence drive.

A judge at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Thursday had ordered Carme Forcadell to be held on charges of “rebellion” — which carries a maximum jail term of 30 years — as Spain’s worst political crisis in a generation rumbles on.

Forcadell was one of several dismissed Catalan officials to be detained after their shock decision last month to declare the region of 7.5 million people independent from Spain.

A source said Forcadell arrived at the Alcala Meco prison near Madrid after midnight (2300 GMT on Thursday).

A court spokeswoman said yesterday that the €150,000 bond had been paid.

“Returning home... with the calm confidence of having acted correctly,” Forcadell posted on Twitter after her release.

The Catalan crisis has caused shock waves across the European Union (EU), prompting nearly 2,400 businesses to move their legal headquarters and re-register outside of the wealthy northeastern region.

Lawmakers opted to split from Spain, claiming they had a mandate after a referendum on October 1 in which 90 per cent of voters backed secession.

But less than half of the electorate took part in a vote denounced as illegitimate by Madrid, and Catalans themselves remain deeply split over whether their region should break away from the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

After the declaration, Madrid dismissed Catalonia’s government, dissolved parliament, suspended the region’s autonomy and called new elections for the region next month.

‘Political prisoners’

Forcadell appeared at the Supreme Court in Madrid on Thursday along with five former Catalan lawmakers. 

She left in a police car, but the others were given a temporary reprieve by the judge, who said they must pay €25,000 each within a week or be detained.

Acting judge Pablo Llarena said his decision to grant bail was made after they either “renounced all future political activity” or agreed to respect the law, according to a court document.

“The declaration that they won’t do anything against the constitutional order sounds good to me,” said Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo. “We’re helping Catalonia return to normal.”

Writing on Twitter, deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who has left for Belgium, said Forcadell had “to sleep in jail for having allowed a democratic debate.”

Puigdemont and four former Catalan ministers are due to appear before a Belgian judge next week after Spain issued an EU-wide warrant for their extradition.

Eight members of his former cabinet were detained last week on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in the independence push.

Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist, says he will not get a fair trial in Madrid, and has called on authorities to release Catalan “political prisoners”.

Pro-independence demo today

Puigdemont and Forcadell have lodged complaints against Madrid with the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, it emerged yesterday.

A court spokesman said four Catalan motions had been filed last month by the two Catalan leader as well as dozens of Catalan parliamentarians.

The court has yet to decide whether to handle the cases.

Forcadell, a lifelong advocate of Catalan independence, has said that as parliamentary speaker she did not have the power to stop the October 27 vote in which lawmakers backed a break from Madrid.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged voters to turn out en masse for the December 21 elections in Catalonia, a region that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s GDP.

Separatist groups have called for a mass demonstration today in Barcelona as a show of support for independence.

Meanwhile Spain said yesterday it had noted news manipulation about the Catalan crisis on social media originating “from Russian territory,” adding the issue would be raised at an upcoming EU ministers meeting. — AFP