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Ban upheld for leader of Spain's Catalonia, vote looms

By Inti Landauro and Joan Faus

Spain's Supreme Court upheld on Monday an 18-month ban from public office for Catalonia's regional leader on charges of disobedience, a move likely to trigger a regional election.

The case stems from Quim Torra's refusal, during a national election campaign in 2019, to follow orders from Spain's electoral committee to remove a banner supporting jailed separatists from the main facade of his government palace.

Mr Torra has defended himself on grounds of freedom of expression, but the court said its ruling encompassed not personal rights but defiance of a constitutional body.

Catalonia's separatist drive has dominated Spanish politics for several years, in particular since the regional assembly made a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017 following a referendum declared illegal by judges.

"Supreme shame," Jordi Turull, one of the jailed Catalan leaders, tweeted just after Monday's ruling.

"Once more, the Spanish state interferes in our democratic institutions," added Mr Torra's predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

The ruling can be appealed but it takes effect once it is notified to Mr Torra, meaning deputy Catalan leader Pere Aragones should soon become acting head.

The ban will prompt a snap election in the prosperous northeastern region if, as expected, the regional parliament does not vote a candidate for the post in coming days.

Mr Torra said earlier this month his removal would trigger an unnecessary election and create instability during the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Cristina Narbona, president of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's PSOE party, said a new regional election should be held fast to stop "political paralysis" in Catalonia.

Catalonia's 7.5 million people are split over independence, with the latest opinion poll showing 42% in favour but 50% against. (Reuters)