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Posts tagged ‘Iberian Land of Spain’

Ousted Caracas mayor reaches Spain after fleeing Venezuela

November 18, 2017

MADRID (AP) — The ousted mayor of Caracas pledged to spread his protest against Venezuela’s socialist government across the world as he arrived in Spain on Saturday, a day after escaping from house arrest and slipping past security forces into Colombia.

After embracing his wife and two daughters with a Venezuela flag draped over his shoulder, Antonio Ledezma said he was going to continue to fight Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from exile. “I am going to dedicate myself to traveling the world, to spread the hope of all Venezuelans to escape this regime, this dictatorship,” Ledezma said. “Venezuela isn’t on the verge of an abyss, it has fallen into the abyss.”

Maduro, for his part, called Ledezma a “vampire flying around the world.” Ledezma, 62, was removed as mayor of Caracas and detained in 2015 on charges of plotting to oust Maduro. He was one of the leaders of anti-government in protests that rocked Venezuela in 2014 that also led to the jailing of other prominent opponents, including his former cellmate Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.

Ledezma’s flight from Bogota landed early Saturday in Madrid where besides his family, he was greeted by the former president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, and the former Venezuelan ambassador, Fernando Gerbasi.

Ledezma said he “felt freedom” upon touching Spanish soil and hopes to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy before starting his global tour. He did not say what countries he plans to visit. “Venezuela is completely collapsing. We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We don’t have any resources left, only our morale.”

Ledezma told The Associated Press on Friday that his decision to flee was driven by threats intended to force the opposition to resume negotiations with Maduro’s government. After slipping past intelligence police officers stationed 24 hours a day outside his residence, he passed through several police checkpoints in a long journey by car to Colombia. Colombian immigration authorities said Ledezma entered the country legally across the Simon Bolivar Bridge.

Ledezma, who thanked both Spanish and Colombian authorities for what he described as their warm welcomes, was elated after his escape. “I’ve lived out a James Bond movie,” Ledemza said. “I made this route of more than 24 hours, passing 29 control points, checkpoints, crossing paths, accepting all the risks, and in every moment I always thought about the value of freedom.”

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Spain issues arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader, aides

November 03, 2017

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant on Friday for former members of the Catalan Cabinet who were last seen in Brussels, including the ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who said he was prepared to run for his old job even while battling extradition in Belgium.

The National Court judge filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Puigdemont and his four aides, and issued separate international search and arrest warrants to alert Interpol in case they flee Belgium.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer did not answer calls requesting comment, but has said that his client will fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum. Belgian federal prosecutors said they had received the arrest warrant and could question Puigdemont in coming days.

“We will study it, and put it in the hands of an investigating judge,” spokesman Eric Van Der Sijpt told The Associated Press. “We are not in any hurry.” Puigdemont and the four others are being sought for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.

The officials flew to Brussels after Spanish authorities removed Puigdemont and his Cabinet from office on Saturday for declaring independence for Catalonia. The Spanish government has also called an early regional election for Dec. 21.

Puigdemont told Belgian state broadcaster that he was in Belgium “ready to be a candidate” in the early polls and because he had lost faith in the Spanish justice system. “We can run a campaign anywhere because we’re in a globalized world,” he told RTBF, adding that he was not in Belgium to “Belgianize Catalan politics.”

“I did not flee, but it’s impossible to properly prepare” a legal defense while in Spain, he told the broadcaster. If Belgium acts on the international warrant issued by Spain and arrests him, Puigdemont would have to be brought before an investigating judge within 24 hours. His extradition procedure would take 15 days, Belgian legal experts say. But should Puigdemont appeal, that process could take a further 45 days, meaning that he would probably not leave Belgium before early January, well after the elections.

In her decision on Friday, Judge Carmen Lamela said that Puigdemont “apparently is in Belgium” and accused him of “leading the mobilization of the pro-independence sectors of the population to act in support of the illegal referendum and thus the secession process outside the legal channels to reform the constitution.”

Spain says the only legal way to achieve secession is by reforming Spain’s 1978 Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament. The constitution says the country is “indivisible” and doesn’t allow regional votes on sovereignty.

The arrest warrant came a day after the same judge jailed nine former members of Puigdemont’s separatist government. All members of the ousted Cabinet were ordered to appear at Spain’s National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion investigation. Five of them, including Puigdemont, didn’t show up.

Spanish prosecutors want to charge members of the dismissed regional government —as well as six additional members of the regional parliament— for promoting official steps to declaring Catalonia’s independence.

Meanwhile, a panel of National Court judges on Friday rejected an appeal seeking the release of two separatist activists who were jailed last month in a separate sedition investigation. A National Court spokesman said the president of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana, Jordi Sanchez, and Omnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart will remain in a Madrid jail while the investigation continues. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity in line with court policy.

Sanchez and Cuixart are being investigated for allegedly orchestrating protests that hindered a judicial investigation to halt preparations for a banned independence referendum held on Oct. 1. Under Spain’s legal system, investigating judges can have suspects detained while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if they should be charged.

Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo deflected questions by the media regarding the jailing of the Catalan officials. The separation of powers meant that the government’s focus was on preparing for the early election it called for Catalonia, Mendez de Vigo said.

“What the government guarantees is that there will be elections where the parties that want to run can present their programs, and we hope that the election can end this period of uncertainty and the deterioration of harmonious coexistence in Catalonia,” he said.

One of the nine jailed Catalan officials, ex-regional minister for business Santi Vila, posted bail of 50,000 euros ($58,000) and was released from custody on Friday. His passport was confiscated and Vila needs to show up in court regularly as the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement probe continues.

The other eight were held without having bail set. “I ask for all political parties across Spain, appealing to their democratic values, to put an end to this terrible situation that has put politicians in prison,” Vila said as he left the Estremera prison near Madrid.

Vila resigned in protest a day before Catalonia’s parliament voted in favor of the independence declaration. He has said he wants to lead the center-right separatist Democratic Party of Catalonia in the upcoming election on a moderate platform.

Puigdemont and his Cabinet were removed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who used extraordinary constitutional authority authorized by the Spanish Senate to depose the separatists, dissolve the regional legislature and call the early regional election.

Spain’s Supreme Court is also investigating six members of Catalonia’s parliament. The court postponed a hearing Thursday until next week to allow more time for them to prepare their defenses in the case.

In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Cook reported from Brussels. Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.

Spain judge jails Catalan ministers, mulls leader’s arrest

November 03, 2017

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge jailed nine former members of Catalonia’s separatist government Thursday and was deliberating a possible international arrest warrant for the region’s ousted president, who remained in Belgium while the others appeared in a Madrid court for questioning about their efforts to break away from Spain.

Former President Carles Puigdemont and his 13-member Cabinet are being investigated for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement stemming from their pursuit of Catalan independence. The Spanish government removed them from office on Oct. 27 and they were summoned to appear in Spain’s National Court on Thursday.

After the nine Catalan Cabinet members who showed up were questioned, a judge sent eight of them to jail without bail. One was ordered held in lieu of 50,000 euros ($58,300) in bail. The seven men and two women were taken from the court in police vans hours later and assigned to prisons in the Madrid area.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Catalan towns to condemn the pre-charge detentions, which fellow separatist politicians and elected officials criticized as an attack on ideas. “We won’t give up, we won’t fail, we will fight till the end,” Marta Rovira, an increasingly prominent politician in Catalonia’s republican-left ERC party, said.

“We have all the right in the world to live in a country with more justice, dignity and freedom,” she told reporters as tear welled in her eyes. The Spanish government said it does not comment on judges’ decisions in deference to the separation of powers.

Investigative magistrate Carmen Lamela ordered the officials into custody at the request of prosecutors, who also asked Thursday for an international warrant seeking Puigdemont’s arrest. Under Spain’s legal system, investigating judges can have suspects detained while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if they should be charged.

Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking “freedom and safety” there. He and four of the officials remained in Brussels on Thursday. Asked whether Puigdemont would turn himself in if the arrest warrant is granted, his lawyer in Belgium, Paul Bekaert, told The Associated Press: “Certainly. Or the police will come get him.” Bekaert said Puigdemont intends to cooperate with Belgian police.

Also Thursday, six Catalan lawmakers appeared for a parallel session in the Spanish Supreme Court. They were given a week to prepare their defenses and instructed to return for questioning on Nov. 9. In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

In a written ruling, the National Court judge said the eight jailed without bail had planned and executed a roadmap since 2015 to create an independent Catalan republic. The ruling said the activities of those under investigation were “meditated and perfectly prepared and organized, repeatedly disobeying systematically over two years Constitutional Court resolutions in favor of the independence.”

The judge said the eight were being jailed without the possibility of bail because of the risk of them fleeing prosecution or hiding or destroying evidence. Lawyers for the jailed officials said they planned to appeal Lamela’s order. Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, who represents Puigdemont and four more of the ousted Cabinet members, said the judge’s decision to send them to jail “lacked justification” and was “disproportionate.”

The Catalan officials’ supporters and party aides in Madrid were seen crying outside the courthouse when the judge’s decision was announced. They shouted “Freedom! Freedom!” and sang the Catalan official anthem, “Els Segadors,” which translates to “The Reapers” in English.

Spain took the unprecedented step of triggering constitutional powers allowing it to take over running Catalonia following a declaration of independence by the regional parliament on Oct. 27. Madrid dismissed the Catalan Cabinet, dissolved the parliament and called a new regional election for Dec. 21.

Junqueras, in a tweet sent shortly after the judge’s decision, called on Catalans to cast ballots to defeat unionists. “Do every day everything that is in your hands in order for good to defeat evil in the ballots of Dec. 21,” the tweet posted through Junqueras’ account said. “Standing up, with determination and onward to victory.”

Puigdemont, also in a tweet, wrote that “the legitimate government of Catalonia has been jailed for its ideas.” Javier Melero, a lawyer representing some of the separatist lawmakers investigated in the Supreme Court, criticized Puigdemont and the four ministers who skipped court. He said their actions would be damaging for his clients, three lawmakers who are members of Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party.

“Not being at the service of the judiciary when you are summoned is always damaging for the rest of those being investigated,” Melero said. About two dozen politicians and elected officials from Catalan separatist parties gathered at the gates of the Supreme Court in a show of support for the lawmakers under investigation.

“If the question is if in Spain you can trust the judicial system, my answer is no,” said Artur Mas, a former president of the Catalan government. “From the personal point of view and also for my personal experience, I don’t think that there are all the guarantees to have a fair trial.”

Mas was banned by a Barcelona court from holding public office for two years after he ignored a Constitutional Court ruling and went ahead with a mock vote on Catalonia’s independence in 2014. Across the street, half a dozen protesters with Spanish flags were stopped by police. They shouted at the Catalan politicians, “cowards” and “to jail, to jail.”

The protracted political crisis over Catalonia, Spain’s worst in decades, could have an impact on the country’s economic growth, Spain’s central bank warned in a report published Thursday.

Sylvain Plazy in Belgium, Paolo Santalucia in Madrid, and Elena Becatoros in Barcelona, contributed to this report.

Spain seeks rebellion charges against fired Catalan leaders

October 30, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s state prosecutor said Monday that he would seek charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against members of Catalonia’s ousted secessionist government, pushing the crisis over the region’s independence declaration into an uncertain new phase.

Chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza said he would ask judges for preventive measures against the politicians and the governing body of the Catalan parliament that allowed a vote to declare independence last week. He didn’t specify if those would include their immediate arrest and detention before trial.

The rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, respectively. It wasn’t immediately clear when judges would rule on the prosecutors’ request.

Maza didn’t name any of those facing charges, but they include regional leader Carles Puigdemont, his No. 2 Oriol Junqueras and Catalan parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell. The announcement came as Catalonia’s civil servants returned to work for the first time since Spain dismissed the separatist regional government and imposed direct control.

In addition to the sedition charges, Spain’s government has said the fired leaders could be charged with usurping others’ functions if they attempt to carry on working. Puigdemont traveled to Brussels, according to a Spanish government an official who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be named in media reports. The trip came after Belgian Asylum State Secretary Theo Francken said over the weekend that it would be “not unrealistic” for Puigdemont to request asylum.

The uncertainty over Puigdemont’s whereabouts and his plans continued the game of political cat-and-mouse with which the Catalan leader has tormented the central government. Also Monday, Puigdemont’s party indicated it is ready to fight in the Dec. 21 early regional election called by the national government, scotching fears the pro-independence parties might boycott the ballot to deny it legitimacy. The center-right PDeCAT party vowed to defeat pro-union political forces in Catalonia.

As dozens of journalists, curious onlookers and bemused tourists gathered in the square outside the Gothic government palace in central Barcelona, residents expressed confusion about who was actually in charge of Catalonia.

“I don’t know — the Catalan government says they are in charge, but the Spanish government says they are,” said Cristina Guillen, an employee in a nearby bag shop. “So I have no idea, really. “What I really think is that nobody is in charge right now,” she said.

At least one portrait of Puigdemont was still hanging on a wall inside the Catalan government’s Generalitat building. At least one member of the ousted government defied his dismissal by showing up at work and posting a photo on Twitter from his formal office.

“In the office, exercising the responsibilities entrusted to us by the people of Catalonia,” said Josep Rull, who until last week was the region’s top official in charge of territorial affairs. Two police officers entered and left the building, followed minutes later by Rull, who told reporters and supporters that he would continue carrying out his agenda.

But there were no official events listed on the regional government’s public agenda that is published online daily. Meanwhile, the two separatist parties in the former Catalan governing coalition held separate meetings to decide their next move.

Spanish authorities say deposed officials will be allowed to take their personal belongings from official buildings, but are barred from performing any official duties. Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said Monday that the government was giving the separatist politicians “a few hours” of time because the goal was “to recover normality in a discreet way and under the principle of minimal intervention” from central authorities.

Catalonia’s regional parliament proclaimed independence from Spain in a secret ballot Friday. The Spanish government dissolved the legislature, fired the government and regional police chief and called a new election for Dec. 21.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Sunday that Puigdemont would be eligible to run in the election, provided he is not imprisoned. “I don’t know what kind of judicial activity will happen between now and Dec. 21. If he is not put in jail at that time I think he is not ineligible,” Dastis told The Associated Press, speaking before prosecutors announced they were seeking charges.

The vote to secede came after an Oct. 1 referendum in favor of independence that was deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Puigdemont has vowed peaceful and “democratic opposition” to his Cabinet’s dismissal, but he hasn’t clarified if that means accepting an early regional election as a way out of the deadlock.

Separatist parties and grassroots groups have spoken of waging a campaign of disobedience to hamper the efforts by central authorities to run the region. A key factor will be how Catalonia’s estimated 200,000 public workers react to their bosses’ dismissal, and whether any stay away from work in protest.

Secession moves by this wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million have tipped Spain into its deepest crisis in decades. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands took part in an anti-independence demonstration in Barcelona, calling for Catalonia to remain in Spain and backing Rajoy’s use of unprecedented constitutional powers to wrest control from the pro-independence regional administration.

Spanish financial markets rose Monday after a poll suggested more Catalans oppose the declaration of independence than support it. The Ibex 35 stock index was up 1.4 percent at 10,338 points, about as much as it had fallen on Friday. Spanish government bonds were also higher.

Jill Lawless in Barcelona, and Carlo Piovano in London, contributed to this story.

Spanish PM to unveil measures to fight Catalan separatists

October 20, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister says his government will unveil specific measures Saturday to halt Catalonia’s independence bid but refused to confirm if that included plans to hold a regional election in January.

The opposition Socialists are supporting the conservative government’s effort to rein in the country’s deepest political crisis in decades. The Socialists’ main negotiator, Carmen Calvo, said earlier Friday that an early election in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia had been agreed upon as part of the deal.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, commenting on the unprecedented constitutional step his government is taking to assume control of Catalonia, said on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels that “the goal is double: the return to legality and the recovery of institutional normalcy.”

The move is likely to further inflame tensions between Spain and Catalonia’s pro-independence activists. Catalonia’s government says it has the mandate to secede from Spain after it held a disputed referendum on Oct. 1. It certainly does not want a new regional election.

The central government will hold a special Cabinet session on Saturday to begin activating Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which lets central authorities take over all or some of the powers of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions.

The measure, which has never been used since democracy was restored after Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, needs to be approved by the Senate. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, so it should pass easily as early as Oct. 27.

Spain’s government has also agreed on the move with the center-right, pro-business Citizens party, Rajoy told reporters in Brussels. King Felipe VI, meanwhile, threw his weight behind efforts to block Catalan independence, saying at a public event Friday night that Catalonia “is and will be an essential part” of Spain.

“Spain will deal with this unacceptable attempt at secession by using the Constitution,” Felipe said in a speech in Oviedo, in northern Spain’s Asturias region. Although not officially on the agenda of a European Union summit Friday, the Catalan crisis was the main topic in Brussels corridors. Rajoy has insisted the political deadlock is a domestic Spanish affair but acknowledged that it was a cause of concern for his fellow EU leaders.

He accused the Catalan separatist authorities of acting against the rule of law and democracy and said: “This is something that goes directly against the basic principles of the European Union.” European leaders have supported Rajoy in Spain’s escalating conflict with the separatists.

“We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish constitution,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said. Offering his “full, entire support,” French President Emmanuel Macron blamed extremist forces for “feeding” on separatism as a kind of division within Europe and a “factor of destabilization.”

Meanwhile, some bank customers in Catalonia withdrew symbolic amounts of money to protest financial institutions that have moved their official headquarters from Catalonia to other locations in Spain amid the political crisis.

The pro-independence umbrella group Cry for Democracy called on consumers to put pressure on banks that made the decision. By Friday morning, dozens of people were lining up at a CaixaBank branch in downtown Barcelona, most of them withdrawing 150 or 160 euros from ATMs — the closest amounts to Article 155 of the constitution.

CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, the largest Catalan lenders, are among nearly 1,000 financial institutions and businesses that have moved their official registration out of Catalonia in the past few weeks.

“These banks are traitors,” said Oriol Mauri, a 35-year-old owner of a children’s game business in Barcelona. “They need to see that it’s lots of us who are angry.” Mauri, who withdrew 150 euros, said he wasn’t worried about businesses fleeing Catalonia.

“I’m not afraid of economic repercussions,” Mauri said. “Our power as consumers is perhaps the only way to influence and have our voice heard in Europe.” Ana Coll, a 55-year-old pharmacist who withdrew 160 euros, said peaceful street protests haven’t been enough to influence the decision-makers in Spain and Europe.

“We need to step up our actions and do something that really hurts, and that is targeting the money,” she said. But not everybody saw the measure as productive. “This is like shooting yourself in the foot. It’s not going to solve anything” said 42-year-old consulting firm worker Oscar Garcia, who compared the action to “the tantrum of a kid who doesn’t get what he wants.”

40 die in fires in Portugal, Spain; Rain helps firefighters

October 17, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Rain and lower temperatures are helping emergency teams in Portugal and Spain fight the forest fires that killed at least 40 people over the weekend. Civil Protection authorities say wildfires in Portugal were under control by Tuesday morning, after at least 36 people died and dozens were injured. Portugal, which still has seven people missing in the blazes, began three days of national mourning on Tuesday.

In northwest Spain, where four people have died in the fires, regional authorities in Galicia say 27 forest fires are still out of control Tuesday, seven of them close to inhabited areas. Investigations are still underway to find the cause for the late-season wave of hundreds of forest fires, which officials in both countries are blaming mostly on arsonists.

Catalan politicians to be quizzed in Spain rebellion case

November 02, 2017

MADRID (AP) — Ousted Catalan government members and lawmakers began arriving at two Spanish courts in Madrid on Thursday to face possible charges of rebellion for having declared the region’s independence.

Twenty regional politicians, including sacked regional government president Carles Puigdemont, were called to appear after the chief prosecutor demanded they be charged with rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the Catalan parliament’s declaration of secession Oct. 27.

Spain took the unprecedented step of seizing control of Catalonia following the declaration and later sacked the cabinet, dissolved the regional Parliament and called fresh regional elections for Dec. 21.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium with some of his ex-Cabinet members, will remain in Belgium and not appear, according to his lawyer, which could trigger a warrant for his arrest and an extradition petition.

The group summoned includes Puigdemont’s 13-member former Cabinet and six parliamentary board members. Puigdemont’s No. 2, Oriol Junqueras, was the first to arrive at the National Court. He went in accompanied by lawyers, passing by dozens of journalists, declining to answer questions.

The crimes being probed are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law. Puigdemont said he and six ex-ministers went to Brussels some days ago for “freedom and safety.” Two of the ex-ministers returned to Spain and were scheduled to be among an estimated 15 lawmakers expected to appear. Four ex-ministers remained in Brussels with Puigdemont.

Besides the ex-Cabinet members, six regional parliament members are to appear before the Supreme Court in a parallel probe. They include former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, one of the leading figures of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia for many years, who arrived at the court shortly after 9 a.m. (0800 GMT).

About two dozen politicians and elected officials from Catalan separatist parties gathered at the gates of the Supreme Court in a show of support for them. Assumpcio Lailla, a former lawmaker with Catalonia’s Democrats party, said she had traveled to Madrid joining around 100 other politicians and elected officials to show support to those investigated in the rebellion probe.

“This is an unjust situation in which they are being investigated for facilitating democracy,” she said. “I don’t understand how Europe can look away from democracy.” The supporters greeted some of the lawmakers that are being questioned Tuesday at the Supreme Court cheering and shouting: “Freedom, Freedom” and “we are not afraid.”

Across the street, half a dozen protesters with Spanish flags were stopped by police. They shouted at the Catalan politicians, “cowards” and “to jail, to jail.”

This story has been corrected to show that the first name of the ex-lawmaker from the Democrats party is Assumpcio, not Assumptio.

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