Thousands of Catalans have taken the streets of Barcelona to protest against the detention of eight regional ministers sacked over Catalonia’s push for independence from Spain.
The eight officials – who appeared in Spain’s high court – are accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Prosecutors are also seeking a European Arrest Warrant for ousted Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont, who did not show up in court and is now in Belgium.
The request also covers four other ex-ministers who ignored the summons.
Spain has been gripped by a constitutional crisis since a referendum on independence from Spain was held in Catalonia on October 1 in defiance of a constitutional court ruling that had declared it illegal.
Last week, Spain’s PM Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on Catalonia, dissolving the regional parliament and calling local elections for December 21.
This came after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare the independence of the affluent north-eastern region.
The Catalan government said that of the 43% of potential voters who took part in the referendum, 90% were in favor of independence.
On November 2, thousands of people gathered outside Catalonia’s regional parliament in Barcelona.
Many carried Catalan flags and slogans that read “Freedom for political prisoners”.
Similar protest rallies were held in other Catalan towns.
Political parties and civic groups in the affluent north-eastern region also condemned the judicial move.
Nine out of 14 summoned Catalan ex-ministers appeared before Judge Carmen Lamela.
The judge said they had to be detained because they might otherwise leave the country or destroy evidence.
Those who were held are: ex-Deputy Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, ex-Interior Minister Joaquim Forn, ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Raül Romeva, ex-Justice Minister Carles Mundó, ex-Labour Minister Dolors Bassa, ex-Government Presidency Councillor Jordi Turull, ex-Sustainable Development Minister Josep Rull and ex-Culture Minister Meritxell Borras.
The ninth official, ex-Business Minister Santi Vila, was granted bail at the request of prosecutors. He quit before the Catalan parliament voted for independence on October 27.
In addition to Carles Puigdemont, prosecutors have asked Spain’s high court judge to issue European arrest warrants for the following Catalan officials: ex-Agriculture Minister Meritxell Serret, Ex-Health Minister Antoni Comín, ex-Culture Minister Lluís Puig, Ex-Education Minister Clara Ponsatí.
Five other senior members of the Catalan parliament, as well as Speaker Carme Forcadell, are facing the same charges but, because of their parliamentary immunity, their cases are being handled by the Supreme Court.
Their hearings have been postponed until November 9.
In a statement broadcast on Catalan TV from an undisclosed location in Belgium, Carles Puigdemont described the detentions as “an act that breaks with the basic principles of democracy”.
“I demand the release of the ministers and the vice-president,” he added.
Carles Puigdemont, who was spotted in a Brussels cafe on November 2, has said he will not return to Spain unless he receives guarantees of a fair trial. He did not specify his exact demands.
According to Efe news agency, Belgium’s federal prosecutor has said the law will be applied once an arrest warrant is received.
Carles Puigdemont’s lawyer said the climate was “not good” for him to appear in court, but he also said his client would co-operate with the authorities in Spain and Belgium.