Spain seeks criminal charges against Catalonia House members

Spanish prosecutors said yesterday they would bring criminal charges against Catalonia parliament members as Madrid moved to crush the region’s plan for an independence referendum.
Spain seeks criminal charges against Catalonia House members

President of the Catalan Government Carles Puigdemont (R), Catalan regional vice-president Oriol Junqueras (C) look at each other during a session at the Catalan parliament to debate and vote a cessation law on an independence, in Barcelona, on September 7, 2017.

Spanish prosecutors said yesterday they would bring criminal charges against members of Catalonia’s parliament, as Madrid moved to crush the region’s plans for an independence referendum.

Separately, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he had appealed to Spain’s Constitutional Court to declare the referendum illegal. The 1978 constitution states Spain is indivisible.

“This vote will never take place,” he said. “In making the appeal, we are defending the rights of all Spaniards and all Catalans.”

A majority of Catalonia’s parliament voted on Wednesday to hold the October 1 referendum, in an acrimonious session in which mainstream political parties left the chamber before the vote and pro-independence lawmakers sang the Catalan anthem.

The Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the matter but it declared a 2014 vote on independence illegal.

Spain’s state prosecutor’s office said yesterday it would bring criminal charges against leading members of the Catalan parliament for allowing Wednesday’s parliamentary vote to go ahead.

The state prosecutor-general, Jose Manuel Maza, said he had also asked the security forces to investigate any preparations by the Catalan government to hold the referendum. These could involve printing leaflets or preparing polling stations.

Teachers, police and administrative workers are among civil servants who could be fined or sacked for manning polling stations or other activities deemed as helping the vote.

Rajoy told Catalan civil servants yesterday no one could make them do anything illegal. He reminded Catalan’s high-ranking regional government officials and town mayors of their legal obligation to stop any activity related to holding a vote on October 1.

Barcelona residents yesterday had mixed feelings about the possibility of a referendum.

“It will never be legal if it’s not agreed with the government,” said interior designer Laurent Legard, 53. “This is not the right path.”

Dolores, a 55-year-old receptionist who declined to give her surname, disagreed. “We are delighted — we’ve been waiting for this moment for many years,” she said.

Catalonia’s regional head, Carles Puigdemont, has said the results of the referendum will be binding whatever the turnout.

But analysts said a low turnout, even if non-binding, would deprive a “yes” vote of legitimacy.

“Even if (the vote) does take place, turnout is unlikely to be sufficient for the outcome to be meaningful,” said Francisco Riquel at Spanish broker Alantra Equities.

A non-binding ballot on independence in 2014, which Catalan politicians have already been punished for holding, gave a “yes” vote on a turnout of just over 30 percent.

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