Catalonia president arrives at court for referendum charges

Catalan President Artur Mas has been put on trial by regional court for his role in staging referendum on independence

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Catalonian President Artur Mas leaves after testifying in court.

Thousands of people turned out to support Catalan President Artur Mas as he arrived at a Barcelona court on Thursday, to testify regarding a referendum on independence from Spain he held even after it was ruled illegal.

Catalonia's leader has been put on trial because he has been accused of breaking the law by organising a vote on whether his region should be independent from Spain.

Supporters carried the Catalan's red and yellow striped flag and chanted "president" and "independence" as he walked to the Supreme Court of Catalonia. 

President Mas has said that the referendum was a core objective of his administration and he took absolute responsibility for holding it.  

"I don't understand why I'm here giving explanations," local media quoted him as telling the judge.

"He fought and did what he had to do and we can't leave him alone now," said Isabel Princep, 58, a recently retired office clerk in the crowd of supporters outside the court. "I find it totally unfair that a Catalan president is judged this way."

The Catalan Independence Movement has caused tension in Spain, as the country is getting ready for the general elections on December 20.

The Spanish government says holding a vote on independence is against the constitution, while Catalonia’s leader Mas's supporters have branded the case against him politically motivated and accuse the Spanish authorities of going after him.

Prosecutors have accused Mas of disobedience, abuse of public funds, prevarication, usurpation of powers and obstructing justice by organising the vote on November 9, 2014.

However, Mas himself called the vote "a great act of democratic rebellion."

Almost 2.3 million of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants voted in the referendum and nearly 1.9 million of them voted in favour of independence.

Mas's two supporters, Regional Education Minister, Irene Rigau and the former deputy leader of the regional government, Joana Ortega, also rejected the accusations against them on Tuesday saying "It is not good to criminalise a peaceful and democratic political act."

Since Madrid has denied Catalans bids for reform due to a recent economic crisis, Catalans demands for greater autonomy have increased in recent years, deepening the conflict with Madrid.  

TRTWorld and agencies