Catalan parliament suspends vote on detained new president

REUTERS  Albert Gea

Since then Catalonia's former president, Carles Puigdemont, has been in self-imposed exile in Brussels and would likely be arrested if he returned to Spain.

One of the leaders facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Marta Rovira, earlier said she had already fled Spain, joining six others in exile.

It also complicates the Catalan parliament's attempts to replace Puigdemont, who is in exile in Belgium to avoid being jailed over last year's attempt to declare independence from Spain.

Many Catalans went to the streets after yesterday the Spanish Supreme Court made a decision to sue 25 of the former district leaders who took measures to declare the independence of the area in the autumn of a year ago.

A judge said the five were serious flight risks.

He was due to appear in court Friday along with several other leading separatists.

Occasional clashes broke out between riot police and protesters as the large crowds pushed against police cordons, La Vanguardia reports.

The five people sent to prison are Jordi Turull, who will not face the second vote selecting the new leader of the Catalan region on Saturday, along with former Catalan speaker Carme Forcadell, and former government officials Ral Romeva, Josep Rull and Dolors Bassa.

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Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont left Finland before authorities could act on a Spanish arrest warrant, a Finnish MP says. Leaving the country was "the only way I have to stand up against the government of the Partido Popular", she wrote, referring to the conservative party of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Demonstrations also took place in other parts of Catalonia.

But one of them, Marta Rovira, ignored the summons and instead announced she was taking "the road to exile".Rovira is deputy leader of the leftwing separatist ERC party, whose chief is now in jail.

Later on Friday, thousands of protesters gathered in the centre of Barcelona, waving flags and condemning the actions of the Spanish government. "Exile will be a hard road, but it is the only way I have to recover my political voice", Rovira said in a letter.

The parliament is set to hold a second vote on Turull's candidacy within the next 48 hours.

Several separatist leaders, including former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, have been in custody since past year. "Long live a Catalan Republic for all!", she said in a letter published in the Spanish media.

The charges will raise the stakes in the deadlock between Madrid and pro-independence Catalans.

However, pro-Union Catalans mostly boycotted the ballot, and turnout was less than 50 per cent.

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