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Jailed Catalan separatists take seats in Spain’s parliament

Pic by Eyleen Gomez

By Aritz Parra, Associated Press

Jailed Catalan politicians have taken their seats in Spain's parliament after being released from pre-trial detention for the occasion.

Two dozen MPs from an upstart far-right party also took their seats as the Spanish parliament convened after last month's inconclusive general election.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez won the national election but fell short of enough seats to form a government on his own. He has put off negotiations on governing alliances until after the European elections on Sunday, which in Spain coincides with votes to elect local councils and regional governments.

Escorted by police, four separatists on trial for Catalonia's 2017 secession attempt, including former Catalan regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, appeared in the Congress of Deputies, while former Catalan regional minister for international relations Raul Romeva was ferried to the Senate from a jail outside of Madrid.

The Supreme Court has allowed them to attend the opening sessions in Madrid but they are likely to be barred from future meetings by the chambers' governing bodies.

Junqueras and the three others took seats in the Congress of Deputies among political opponents, including two far-right Vox party deputies who are also prosecutors in their ongoing trial for rebellion and other charges that could land them in prison for decades.

Vox is the first parliamentary party that openly espouses Spanish nationalism since dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975. It wants to use its 24 seats among the 350 lower house MPs to propose legal reforms on abortion, violence against women and migration.

The eruption of Vox in the late April election split the right-wing vote into three groups, which together fell short of the 176 majority. As a result, competition for the leadership of the opposition has intensified between two parties - the once-dominant conservative Popular Party and the centre-right Citizens.

The Socialists were the leading party in the election with 123 seats. But with Citizens ruling out any pacts to support a Socialist administration, Mr Sanchez's efforts to form a government are centred on the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, which holds 42 seats, and some other smaller groups.

Those votes were key in the election of Socialist MPs from Catalonia as speakers of both houses: Meritxell Batet in the Congress of Deputies and Manuel Cruz in the Senate.

Sanchez said they had been proposed because both are "loyal to Spain" and because they have shown "an unwavering vocation for dialogue".

"They are Catalans at the service of Spain and Spaniards at the service of Catalonia," the prime minister told his Socialist MPs.

The speakers' first task will be meeting with their governing bodies and deciding whether to suspend the elected separatist MPs because they are in jail while awaiting trial.