Puigdemont urges European leaders to speak up for Catalan separatists

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has criticised the passivity of European politicians in denouncing the prosecution of dismissed secessionist officials.

In an interview in Brussels with Catalan public radio, the separatist leader said there is an "absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites" and that Catalonia's problem is an "issue of human rights that requires maximum attention".

He is fighting extradition to Spain, where other members of his ousted cabinet have been sent to jail while awaiting the results of a probe for allegedly implementing a strategy to secede from Spain.

Spanish central authorities are in direct control of the north-eastern region, where an early election on December 21 is shaping into a tight race between separatist and pro-union forces.

Puigdemont wants to lead a pro-independence coalition of political forces in the regional elections.

The civil society group that spearheaded the Catalan push for secession from Spain has also called for the region's separatist political parties to run in a "unified pro-independence ticket".

Assemblea Nacional Catalana said a coalition should include jailed separatist activists and the members of the deposed Catalan cabinet as candidates.

The parties have until midnight to register an interest in forming coalitions.

But a repetition of the ousted ruling coalition of the centre-right PDeCAT and the left republican ERC that also appeals to the anti-establishment CUP party seems unlikely before the deadline expires.

PDeCAT wants Puigdemont to lead a hypothetical coalition, while ERC says it will only agree if deposed and jailed vice president Oriol Junqueras heads a ticket supported by the CUP and even far-left non-nationalists.

A recent poll by the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper predicted that the three pro-secession parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in December, while 68 are needed for a majority.

Pro-secession parties held a slim majority of 72 of 132 seats in the Catalan parliament before it was dissolved by Spanish authorities after legislators passed a declaration of independence on October 27.

The central government also removed Puigdemont's cabinet and called for a snap election to replace them.

Judges are gauging possible rebellion charges against the former Catalan separatist officials and legislators who made the vote possible. Eight former cabinet members including Junqueras have been jailed, one released on bail and five more, including Puigdemont, are in Belgium where they plan to campaign while fighting extradition to Spain.

Six legislators, including the regional parliament's speaker Carme Forcadell, could also be sent to jail as soon as Thursday after they give evidence to a Supreme Court judge on a similar probe.

They face possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, which can be punished with up to 30 years in prison.

Catalan separatist parties are planning to include some of the officials in ballots as a way to draw more attention to a situation they consider unjust. Lawyers are also arguing that the officials should be spared jail before trial because running for a parliamentary seat means they have no intention of fleeing the country.

AP


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