Catalan jailed MPs attend Spain parliament opening

media captionCatalan separatist MPs arrive in Spanish parliament

Five Catalan separatist politicians - currently on trial accused of rebellion - have taken their seats in the Spanish parliament under discreet police guard.

Four are lower-house MPs and one is a senator. The Spanish parliament has not witnessed such an event before.

The four MPs swore to uphold the Spanish constitution, but called the oath "a legal obligation" and demanded freedom for "political prisoners".

As they spoke, far-right and right-wing MPs shouted and hammered on benches.

Spanish media say the noise - mostly from far-right Vox MPs - drowned out the Catalans' oaths.

The parliamentary authorities are expected to suspend the four Catalan separatist MPs, urged to do so by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos.

The four MPs - Josep Rull, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Turull - and senator Raül Romeva are on trial for taking part in Catalonia's push for independence in 2017.

The Spanish Supreme Court decision to let them take up their seats in parliament under police escort was condemned by Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, a fugitive in Belgium.

They won seats in the Spanish general election on 28 April, in which the Socialists came top, but without a majority.

The atmosphere was friendlier when the Catalan MPs arrived in the Cortes (lower house) - they received applause from some fellow MPs and handshakes from leftist Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

image copyrightEPA
image captionPodemos leader Pablo Iglesias (R) warmly greeted the accused Catalan MPs

Spain's acting prime minister is Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader. His party won 123 seats and would need Podemos's 42 seats and 11 more seats from Basque nationalists or Catalan separatists to achieve a majority.

The daily El País says the Vox party leader, Santiago Abascal, made a provocative move by sitting in the seat traditionally reserved for the Socialists' spokesperson.

In last month's election Vox won 24 seats - the most significant result for a far-right force in Spain since the Franco military dictatorship ended in 1975.

Last week Spain's Supreme Court rejected a request from the five Catalan separatist politicians that they be permanently released from jail. It granted them "exceptional" permission to attend the opening session of parliament, but did not clarify if they would be allowed to attend debates.

A dozen leaders of Catalonia's failed 2017 independence bid are on trial in Madrid, facing charges including rebellion and sedition. If convicted, some could face up to 25 years in prison.

The semi-autonomous region of Catalonia held an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, which Madrid had earlier declared to be illegal.

The Catalan separatists declared independence from Spain weeks after the vote, and the Madrid government then imposed direct rule.

Spain's 1978 constitution speaks of "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation".

The Catalonia crisis is considered the most serious to hit Spain since the fascist Franco era.

Mr Puigdemont and five of his aides fled abroad to avoid the Spanish judicial crackdown. They face prison if they return to Spain.

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