Separatists to put Spain's minority government on the ropes

Reuters

Reuters

The prime minister had earlier put his political future at stake, promising that if the 2019 budget is not adopted, he would call a snap election in mid-April.

Puigdemont, who fled Spain in 2017 after leading a failed bid for Catalan independence, described his former colleagues on trial as "honourable, innocent, democratic people", and insisted there were "no criminal violations of the Spanish criminal law".

The constitution bans any Spanish region from seceding.

Spain's parliament rejected the government's preliminary 2019 budget on Wednesday which could push Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez into calling an early national election.

"Under no circumstance will we agree to include the right to self-determination in Catalonia in any talking points", she said.

"After seven years of social injustice, right-wing forces and the independence movement will vote against a social budget", Sanchez tweeted on Tuesday.

"Both want the same thing: that Catalonia be at war with itself and that Spain be at war with itself".

Madrid accused the Catalan leaders of rebellion for their efforts in support of an independence referendum on October 1, 2017, which sparked one of Spain's deepest political crisis since the country's transition to democracy in the 1970s. Earlier, pro-independence activists briefly blocked highways and the entrance to the state prosecutor's office before they were cleared by the regional police without incident. They sat on four benches in the middle of the courtroom. They held papers, smiled to each other at times and waved at relatives in the courtroom.

Junqueras' lawyer, Andreu Van Den Eynde, was the first to speak, arguing that the cause goes "against political dissidence".

"We are before an exceptional trial", he told the judges, adding that "self-determination is the formula to avoid conflicts in the world".

Torra later called the trial a "farce" and said any guilty verdicts would be appealed to European courts. "This case will end up in European and worldwide courts, and we will win it". In Berlin on Tuesday, Puigdemont said the trial marked a stress test for Spain's democracy.

Puigdemont successfully avoided extradition to Spain when a German court refused to send him back on charges of rebellion past year. Since then, he has campaigned in Europe for the Catalans to be able to settle their links to Spain in a vote.

Those who stayed behind and showed up in court are the ones standing trial.

Flanked by hundreds of police, pro- and anti-separatist demonstrators gathered outside the Spanish Supreme Court, where the defendants face charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

The proceedings were broadcast live on television in a display of transparency that aims to fight the separatists' attack on the court's credibility. Authorities in Spain have dismissed the notion that the trial is political and say it follows the European Union's highest standards.

The trial is expected to last at least three months, with a final ruling being delivered in June or later.

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