Spain Supreme Court orders trial of former Catalan leaders

In this file photo taken on September 11, 2018 demonstrators hold a banner demanding freedom for Catalan jailed leader Oriol Junqueras as they gather to take part in a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, on September 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2018
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Spain Supreme Court orders trial of former Catalan leaders

MADRID: Spain’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered 18 former Catalan leaders to stand trial over their role in last year’s declaration of independence.
The court said nine jailed former leaders including Catalonia’s ex-vice president Oriol Junqueras should be tried for rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
But the region’s former president Carles Puigdemont — who played a key role in the separatist drive and is in self-imposed exile in Belgium — is not part of those sent to trial because Spain does not allow trials in absentia.
Puigdemont is also accused of rebellion.
Catalonia’s parliament declared independence on October 27 last year following a banned secession referendum that was marred by violence as national police sent in from Madrid beat voters with batons and fired rubber bullets.
The move triggered Spain’s worst political crisis since the country returned to democracy following the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
Apart from Junqueras, the court ordered five other members of the Catalan government to stand trial for rebellion, along with the ex-president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell.
The leaders of two powerful grassroots separatist groups, Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural, were also ordered to stand trial for rebellion. They have been in jail since October 2017.
Some of the 18 accused also face charges of embezzlement or disobedience.
The trial is expected to start in early 2019.
Junqueras and the other former Catalan cabinet members were detained in November 2017 pending trial after organizing the illegal referendum and declaring independence from Spain.
The central government responded to the unilateral declaration of independence by sacking the Catalan government, taking control of the wealthy northeastern region and calling a snap regional election.
Catalan separatist parties once again won a slim majority in the Catalan regional parliament in the December 2017 polls but they have become divided over what strategy to pursue to achieve independence.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ruling Socialists have taken a more conciliatory approach than the conservative government they replaced earlier this year.
Sanchez’s cabinet has offered a vote on increased self-government for Catalonia but categorically ruled out a referendum on self-determination or independence.
Several of his ministers have said they would prefer if the former Catalan leaders were not in pre-trial detention even as they stress only the courts can free them.
Sanchez’s minority government depends on the support of Catalan separatist parties to pass legislation.
Polls show Catalans are evenly split on the question of independence but the overwhelming majority back a legally binding vote to settle the issue.
Catalonia’s separatist drive has deeply divided people in the wealthy northeastern region and caused resentment in the rest of Spain.


North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

Updated 25 min 18 sec ago

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.