Spanish court rejects release for jailed Catalan separatist Junqueras

In this file photo, the sacked Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras arrives at the National Court for questioning by a National Court judge investigating possible rebellion charges, in Madrid, Spain on Nov. 2, 2017. (AP)
Updated 05 January 2018

Spanish court rejects release for jailed Catalan separatist Junqueras

MADRID: Spain’s Supreme Court ordered on Friday that Catalan separatist leader Oriol Junqueras must remain in custody after over two months in prison while authorities investigate his role in the Spanish region’s independence movement.
In a written ruling, the judges said there was a risk that Junqueras would again commit an offense if he were released as there was no evidence to show he had abandoned “the path followed so far.” He is being held on allegations of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
A Dec. 21 election gave separatists a slim majority in the regional parliament in a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had hoped it would quash the Catalan independence movement and resolve Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
The court’s decision will probably prevent Junqueras from being sworn in at the opening session of the new Catalan parliament on Jan. 17 and complicates the separatist parties’ search for a leader who is neither jailed nor abroad.
Junqueras’s Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party emerged from the election as the second largest separatist group, a few seats behind former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party.
Market-friendly unionist party Ciudadanos (Citizens) won the most seats but other unionist parties did not secure enough votes to form a majority.
Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, though he has said he would return to Catalonia if the Spanish government gave him certain “guarantees,” likely a promise not to arrest him.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Puigdemont tweeted: “There is a conflict between Catalonia and Spain that must be resolved. We have always opted for peace and dialogue.”
Esquerra lawmakers have said Puigdemont has the right to again be Catalan president, but if he is unable to return from Brussels he should step aside for Junqueras.
Esquerra and Junts per Catalunya, along with a smaller separatist party, have not yet agreed on a coalition.
Rajoy fired both Junqueras and Puigdemont when he imposed direct control over Catalonia after its separatist-controlled government declared independence following an Oct. 1 referendum on secession from Spain, which courts ruled illegal.
Junqueras’s defense, and other separatist leaders, contend that the independence drive was legal and they have criticized the Spanish government and judiciary for what they call a heavy-handed response.
At a court hearing on Thursday, Junqueras said he was a man of peace and dialogue.
However, judges said on Friday they did not believe that his offer of dialogue indicated he would abandon the “conflict with the state.”


Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

Updated 33 min 22 sec ago

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

  • Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march
  • The protests had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park, but later spilled onto the streets in violation of police orders.
Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march. Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
“Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests. I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested. One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up. The future belongs to the youth”.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in a deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.