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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 19 March, 2018

Catalan police chief appears in court over sedition investigation as tensions rise in Spain

Tensions have been rising since the Catalan leader said it could declare independence after a meeting on Monday.

Catalan regional police chief Josep Luis Trapero, second left, arrives at the national court in Madrid, Spain.
Catalan regional police chief Josep Luis Trapero, second left, arrives at the national court in Madrid, Spain.
Image: Paul White via PA Images

CATALONIA’S POLICE CHIEF appeared in court in Madrid today to answer accusations of sedition over his handling of unrest last month sparked by the region’s contested independence drive.

An investigating judge summoned police chief Josep Lluis Trapero along with three other suspects, a move that escalated tensions between the regional and national governments.

Catalan leaders have threatened to declare independence in defiance of the national government and courts, after pushing ahead with a banned referendum on the issue last Sunday.

The independence dispute has laid bare a rift between Catalonia’s regional police and national security forces deployed to the region.

Trapero’s force was accused of failing to rein in pro-independence protesters during recent unrest in the northeastern region.

The accusations refer to unrest in Barcelona on 20 and 21 September after national security forces raided regional government offices in a crackdown against the independence drive.

Spain: Demonstration Against Police Brutality in Catalonia's Referendum Hundreds of pro-independence activists demonstrate in Barcelona on Tuesday. Source: SIPA USA via PA Images

Trapero arrived at Madrid’s National Court today flanked by two fellow officers and made no comment to waiting reporters, an AFP reporter saw.

Two other defendants also arrived to answer the same charge – the leaders of Catalonia’s two most prominent pro-independence civil groups, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

They were greeted outside the court by a cheering crowd of politicians from allied parties.

Contested referendum

A small group of about eight anti-independence protesters also demonstrated outside the court yelling “Catalonia is Spain” before police made them leave.

A fourth defendant, senior Catalan police official Teresa Laplana, was due to appear before the judge by video link for health reasons, court officials said.

Tensions between Catalonia and the national government have plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

Announcing the summons on Wednesday, the court said the four suspects were accused of “a crime of sedition… in relation to the gatherings and demonstrations carried out to forcibly prevent the authorities and their officers from performing their duties”.

Spain: Catalonia on strike over independence poll violence Around 300,000 persons gathered in the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday. Source: SIPA USA via PA Images

The crime of sedition is punishable by up to 15 years in prison if committed by a member of the authorities, under Spain’s penal code.

In the September demonstrations called by Omnium and ANC, protesters damaged Civil Guard police vehicles and stopped officers from leaving the building they were searching.

Police prevented the defendants’ supporters from entering the court building with them on Friday.

One Catalan lawmaker defiantly waved at police a voting paper from last Sunday’s contested independence referendum.

That vote was banned by Madrid and marred by violence by national police against voters.

National security forces beat unarmed voters as officers shut down some polling stations.

© AFP 2017

Read: Spain court orders Catalan independence session suspended

More: Catalan leader says region will declare independence ‘in a matter of days’

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