Protests as trial of Catalan separatists begins in Madrid

Protesters have blocked highways in Catalonia as the trial of separatist leaders gets under way in the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid.

Tuesday’s protests were timed with the start of arguably Spain’s most consequential trial in four decades of democracy.

Twelve defendants are being tried for their roles in pushing ahead with a unilateral independence declaration based on the results of a secession referendum that ignored a constitutional ban.

Some face decades in prison if they are found guilty of rebellion.

The defendants face the Supreme Court in Madrid (Emilio Naranjo/AP)

The proceedings are being broadcast live on television, and the trial is expected to last about three months.

The defendants could be imprisoned for decades if they are convicted of rebellion, the gravest of the charges. They could also be fined if they are found guilty of misusing public funds in the secessionist attempt.

Defence lawyers say they should be acquitted.

The “trial of the century”, as it has been labelled by the Spanish media, has taken on a high political significance. Separatists in the prosperous north-eastern region have made clear they will use the trial to prove that they are being tried for their ideas.

The charges stem from the autumn of 2017 when Catalan separatists pushed ahead with a banned independence referendum and a violent police crackdown attempted to stop it.

In Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades, the unauthorised independence vote still went ahead. Separatist Catalan legislators declared victory and made a unilateral independence declaration 26 days later, but received no international recognition.

- Press Association

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