Spain government transfers four Catalan leaders to prisons close to their homes, seeks to ease tensions with separatists
Spain has transferred four out of the nine arrested Catalan separatist leaders to a prison close to home in order to east tensions before talks with regional president Quim Torra
Barcelona: Four of the nine Catalan separatist leaders in custody over their role in Catalonia's secession bid were transferred on Wednesday to a prison in the region as part of Madrid's efforts to ease tensions ahead of talks next week.
The four were undergoing intake formalities at a prison in Lledoners, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Barcelona, a spokesman for Catalonia's regional justice authorities told AFP. They are former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras and two heads of separatist groups — Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart — as well as Raul Romeva, the former Catalan government's international affairs chief.
Accused of rebellion along with deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont for their role in Catalonia's proclamation of independence in October 2017, they face up to 25 years in jail.
Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been in power for a month after overthrowing his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy. Last week he urged Catalan separatist leaders to "turn the page" on the contested independence referendum after regional president Quim Torra said he wanted another vote.
Another two prisoners — Carme Forcadell, former head of the regional parliament, and Dolors Bassa, who held the labour portfolio in the former government — were to be transferred later Wednesday to a prison near Figueras, 140 km northeast of Barcelona. The last three imprisoned former Catalan leaders will be transferred to Catalonia next week, the regional justice spokesman added.
Madrid's announcement Monday that six of the nine would be transferred from prisons around the Spanish capital came ahead of a 9 July meeting in Madrid between Sanchez and Torra. Spain's right-wing opposition has criticised the prisoner transfer, accusing the Sanchez government of going soft on the separatists. But the separatists and their supporters demand the men's release, saying they are "political prisoners".
Protests are expected later Wednesday outside the two prisons. "They are nearer to us now, but they are not where they should be, in the street," Torra said. Puigdemont is being held in Germany where he was travelling after spending five months in self-imposed exile in Belgium. He was arrested in late March.
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