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EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Spanish MEPs’ access suspended over Catalan dispute

The European Parliament has suspended the accreditation of all newly elected Spanish members after Carles Puigdemont and another Catalan separatist MEP were denied access to the building, sources said Friday.

Spanish MEPs' access suspended over Catalan dispute
Carles Puigdemont. Photo: AFP

Puigdemont, who was president of Catalonia at the time of the failed independence bid, was refused access to the parliament building Wednesday evening, one of Puigdemont's lawyers, Simon Bekaert, told AFP. So too was fellow Catalan politician Toni Comin.

They were also denied temporary accreditation, despite the fact that other Spanish members had already received theirs, which Bekaert denounced as “arbitrary and discriminatory”.

The reason given was that the Parliament did not yet have the official list of Spanish members, he said.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium shortly after Catalonia declared independence to avoid arrest.

Although he has been elected to the European Parliament it is not clear if he will be able to take his seat.

Under Spanish rules, all of those elected to the European Parliament first have to swear they will abide by Spain's constitution — in person. If Puigdemont travelled to Spain he would immediately be arrested on a charge of rebellion.

President of the parliament Antonio Tajani decided to suspend access for all Spanish MEPs until the definitive results of the European elections in Spain are published.

“The Spanish theatre of the absurd has been imported into the European Parliament,” said Bekaert.

“If the European Parliament lets itself be influenced by a member state into banning deputies from taking their seat, we will go to the European Court of Justice,” he warned.

The Spanish authorities have to send the official results of the elections there to the parliament in the 20 days following the elections, he added.

This latest row comes as Spain announced Friday that it had complained to the United Nations over a report by UN-mandated experts criticising them over the detention of Catalan separatists.

Madrid said they had asked for the assessment by independent experts to be revised, alleging a “conflict of interest”.

The experts, although commissioned by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council were not speaking in the name of the United Nations.

Their report, published on Wednesday, called for the release of three leading separatists whose cases it was asked to examine and described their detention as “arbitrary”.

READ ALSO: Catalan separatist leaders (one in jail and one in exile) win seats in EU parliament

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INDEPENDENCE

Puigdemont rejects being chosen as next Catalan leader

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Thursday rejected being re-appointed as leader of the region, following pressure from Spain's government and months of political turmoil over its independence bid.

Puigdemont rejects being chosen as next Catalan leader
Carles Puigdemont has ruled himself out. Photo: AFP

Puigdemont's announcement from exile in Germany came a day after the Madrid government stepped in to block him from once again becoming president of Catalonia, pressuring the separatist camp to pick another candidate and form a regional government.

READ MORE: Madrid blocks second Puigdemont comeback bid in Catalonia

Separatist allies had said they would try to have Puigdemont back in the role by next week after the regional parliament voted through reforms allowing him to be re-appointed without being present.

Madrid, however, successfully requested the Constitutional Court to cancel the reform and in a video message Puigdemont said he was now willing to step aside.

“The intolerance and the lack of respect of the state towards the will of the citizens of Catalonia have appeared clearly in the eyes of the world,” he said in the video.

He proposed political newcomer Quim Torra as his successor, urging the next regional executive to build an independent country.   

PROFILE: Quim Torra, the Catalan separatist anointed by Puigdemont

The region has been in political limbo since Spain's conservative central government imposed direct rule on the region after it unilaterally declared independence in October.

Separatists won regional elections in December, but fresh polls will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22nd.   

Puigdemont, who first fled to Belgium, was detained in Germany in March after Spain issued a European arrest warrant against him.   

Madrid wants to extradite him to Spain to try him on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1st even though the courts had ruled it unconstitutional.

'Rebellion'

A German court last month dismissed the extradition request for Puigdemont on the rebellion allegations and released him on bail.   

Spanish prosecutors have since handed over new information to Germany they hope will prove the use of violence, to justify the rebellion charge and their extradition request.

Only last month, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Barcelona to protest the jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders who are facing trial on “rebellion” charges in Spain.

The protest came six months after the first incarcerations of the leaders for misuse of public funds, sedition and rebellion — which carries a prison sentence of 30 years and implies that a “violent uprising” took place — over their separatist push.

They include the heads of Catalonia's two largest pro-independence groups — Jordi Sanchez of the ANC and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Jordi Cuixart.   

Prosecutors say the two men played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests in September in Barcelona during which national police were trapped inside a government building for several hours and their 
vehicles were destroyed.   

They are also accused of mobilising thousands of pro-independence supporters to prevent police from stopping the October 1st independence referendum from going ahead.

Sanchez was elected as a lawmaker in snap polls in Catalonia in December and has twice been proposed as a candidate to lead a new Catalan regional government, but a judge refused both times to allow him to leave jail to be sworn in.