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Ex-Catalonia chief faces public office ban over independence vote

Former President of the Catalan regional Government Artur Mas, center, waves to the crowd as he arrives next to former education minister Irene Rigaua, left, and former Vice-president Joana Ortega at the Catalonia's high court in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. Thousands took the streets of Barcelona Monday to accompany three Catalan politicians, including a former regional president, as they walked to a high court where they face charges for disobeying a Constitutional order two years ago banning a vote on the region’s independence. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Former Catalonia regional government chief Artur Mas is facing a two-year ban from holding public office for going ahead with a vote on the region's independence from Spain despite a ruling against it.
A Barcelona judge also required him to pay a fine of 36,500 euro (£31,800) and disqualified two of his aides, former regional vice president Joana Ortega and education councillor Irene Rigau, from politics for 21 and 18 months respectively.
The three former officials will appeal against the ban to the Supreme Court and are prepared to take the case to European courts, said Mas in remarks following the verdict adding that he does not trust justice in the country.
"In Spain, the law is not the same for everybody. This is a lie, this is not true," he said during a news conference in Barcelona, flanked by Ortega and Rigau.
"We have been condemned for defending ideas that are not liked," Mas said, adding that the trio had no regrets and would do "exactly the same" once again.
The central government declined to comment, but told Spanish public broadcaster TVE that it respected the court's decision.
Monday's sentence said that Mas disobeyed Spain's Constitutional Court when he gathered support from thousands of volunteers to install voting stations in public schools.
Ortega and Rigau were "necessary aides" in organising the vote, the court said.
It found the three of them not guilty of administrative wrongdoing, as prosecutors had initially asked for.
Polls consistently show that Catalans who want to break from Spain are a minority among the wealthy north-eastern region's 7.5 million inhabitants, although the ranks of those who do want a vote on separation have been swelling since the 2008 economic crisis.
Carles Puigdemont, who succeeded Mas in the regional government, criticised the court's decision and compared it with Monday's announcement by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she would seek authority for a new referendum on the independence of Scotland.
"What a difference with consolidated and healthy democracies," Mr Puigdemont tweeted.
His coalition government of separatist parties has announced plans to hold a new referendum before the end of September, although central authorities in Madrid have said that such a vote will also be illegal.
"What the Spanish judiciary has condemned today will be repealed by the Catalan people in a referendum to be held later this year," Mr Puigdemont said.

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