By Daniel Bosque, AFP | September 29
Barcelona – A court Tuesday summoned Catalonia’s president to face possible charges for holding a 2014 independence ballot, a move his allies branded politically motivated as they push to break away from Spain.
The move by the Catalonia high court came as a bitter standoff between Artur Mas and the Spanish government deepened after he and fellow separatists won control of their regional parliament on Sunday.
Buoyed by that result, the separatists vowed to push on towards a declaration of independence by 2017 but Madrid promised to defend the unity of Spain.
In a judicial investigation dating back to last year, the court called Mas to go before a judge on October 15, in a written ruling released on Tuesday.
Prosecutors accuse him of civil disobedience, abuse of power and embezzlement of public funds in organising last November’s ballot.
“We are faced with a political lawsuit, the political orchestration of a case brought by the state prosecution service,” the spokeswoman for Mas’s government, Neus Munte, told a news conference.
Mas and two other officials are accused of breaking the law by organising the ballot on November 9, 2014, in defiance of an injunction by Spain’s Constitutional Court. If found guilty they could be banned from public office.
– Lawsuits amid elections –
Mas wanted his rich northeastern region to follow the example of Scotland and Canada’s Quebec region by holding a referendum on independence.
Banned by the Constitutional Court from holding an official referendum, Mas held a symbolic ballot organised by volunteers.
But he and fellow officials are accused of using public resources to stage the vote, setting up polling stations in schools and posting electoral information online.
Munte expressed her “total conviction that nothing illegal was done”.
Nearly 2.3 million of Catalonia’s 5.5 million voters took part in the symbolic ballot. About 1.9 million voted for independence but the poll was not legally binding.
Mas then called a snap regional election on September 27 and campaigned in a pro-independence alliance.
His group won enough seats in Sunday’s vote to control the regional parliament if it teams up with the radical left-wing movement CUP.
Both groups said that result gave them a mandate to proceed to a declaration of independence and said they would start this week holding meetings to reach an accord.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisted he would not negotiate on demands for independence.
Three months ahead of a general election, Rajoy says Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy, must stay united as it recovers from an economic crisis.
– Tough talks ahead –
Sunday’s result put the wind in the sails of the separatists, but Mas’s Together For Yes alliance must now strike a deal with the CUP, which refuses to accept him as leader of the separatist movement.
Munte insisted the lawsuit “will in no way affect the steps we have to take in the coming weeks to form a parliament and to be able to continue with the roadmap” to independence.
Mas knew ahead of Sunday’s vote he would likely be summoned to court in the pending case, but the timing of the announcement prompted bitter criticism of the Spanish justice system by separatists.
The summons “is the best proof of why we need to be an independent country,” said Oriol Junqueras, leader of the centre-left ERC party which joined in Mas’s separatist electoral alliance.
“While we are part of the Spanish state, issues that would be quite normal in any other country in the world, such as asking citizens their opinion, get turned into lawsuits, charges and court hearings,” he said on the radio.