Spain to try Catalan separatist leaders for rebellion

MADRID,  (Reuters) – Twenty-five Catalan leaders will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday, in a sharp escalation of legal action against separatists in the northeastern region.

One of the leaders facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Marta Rovira, earlier said she had already fled Spain, joining five others in exile. On Friday evening, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena ordered an international arrest warrant for all six.

The ruling raised the stakes in Madrid’s efforts to contain separatists in Catalonia, where a banned referendum backed independence last year.

The case will be closely watched by separatist groups across Europe and beyond. Rights groups have already criticised the extent of Madrid’s crackdown – though the European Union, wary of any splintering of its member states, has firmly supported the Spanish government’s response. Catalonia has been in political limbo since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took over its regional government after it unilaterally declared independence following the October plebiscite.

Llarena said on Friday 13 leaders, including Rovira and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who is already in exile in Brussels, will be tried for rebellion.

Another 12 will be tried for embezzlement or disobeying the state through their role in holding the referendum or declaring independence.

Puigdemont and fellow separatists have all denied any wrongdoing, saying the plebiscite gave them the authority to break away from Spain.

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