Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Spanish court opens sedition probe of Catalonia officials for independence bid

By William Booth

October 4, 2017 at 6:06 PM

Marchers wearing pro-independence Catalonia regional flags near Barcelona University on Oct. 3, 2017. (Estevez/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock/Estevez/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

BARCELONA — Spain's high court launched a criminal investigation on Wednesday against the Catalan police chief and organizers of the disputed referendum on suspicion of inciting rebellion against the state.

The summonses to appear before the court this week came after the Spanish king on Tuesday night charged that the Barcelona separatists were acting "outside the law and outside democracy." 

With each passing day, national authorities and the pro-independence forces in Catalonia appear to be moving inexorably toward a dramatic confrontation.

On Wednesday night, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president and a leading secessionist, made a televised address defending the decision to stage a vote deemed illegal and unconstitutional by the courts.

Puigdemont said Catalonia was united and that "the people were doing what other peoples have done before them" — charting their own destiny. 

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Spain’s King Felipe VI accused Catalan leaders of "showing disloyalty" and dividing Catalan society, as thousands took to the streets to protest a violent police crackdown against the Oct. 1 independence referendum. (Reuters)

Yet in his short address, Puigdemont did not use the word "independence," nor did he say what would happen next.

Instead, the Catalan leader spoke of "compromise," "mediation," "coexistence," "peace" and "dialogue."

"We are a country that can achieve our dreams," he said, without specifics.

Related: [Catalonia independence vote: What you need to know]

In an interview Tuesday, Puigdemont repeated earlier promises that his government would submit results of the referendum to the Catalan parliament and call for a sovereign republic.

"We're going to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted," Puigdemont told the BBC

The Catalan leader said all the votes from abroad would arrive and probably be counted by the end of the week. "Therefore, we will act over the weekend or early next week," he said.

A man holds up a button reading "Yes. Hello Republic" during a protest a day after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso
Independence supporters march during a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. Catalan leaders accused Spanish police of brutality and repression while the Spanish government praised the security forces for behaving firmly and proportionately. Videos and photographs of the police actions were on the front page of news media outlets around the world. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
People gather in Plaza Catalunya during a protest one day after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
VIC, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02: People gather beneath a large banner where it reads 'Si', 'Yes' in Catalan, during a protest against the violence that marred yesterday's referendum vote on October 2, 2017 in Vic, Spain. According to the Catalonia's government more than two million people voted yesterday in the referendum of Catalonia, which the Government in Madrid had declared illegal and undemocratic. Officials said that 90% of votes cast were for independence. The Catalan goverment's spokesman said that an estimated of 770,000 votes were lost as a result of 400 polling stations being raided by Spanish police. Hundreds of citizens were injured during the police crackdown. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Independence supporters march during a demonstration downtown Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. Catalan leaders accused Spanish police of brutality and repression while the Spanish government praised the security forces for behaving firmly and proportionately. Videos and photographs of the police actions were on the front page of news media outlets around the world. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
People shout as an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) flutters during a protest the day after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Enrique Calvo
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Robin Townsend/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9101257i) Two women argue with a Spanish National policeman during clashes between Catalan pro-independence people and police forces at the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center in Girona, where the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont was expected to vote, in Girona, Catalonia, northeastern Spain, on 01 October 2017. National Police officers and Civil guards have been deployed in Barcelona to prevent the people from entering to the polling centers and vote in the Catalan independence referendum, that has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. The police action has provocked clashes between pro-independence people and the police forces. Clashes during the Catalan referendum, Sant Juli?De Ramis, Spain - 01 Oct 2017
A ballot box is taken from a school assigned to be a referendum polling station by the Catalan government in Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Ballot boxes where taken to be stored temporarily in a safe place in case the police storms the school. The Spanish government and its security forces are trying to prevent voting in the independence referendum, which is backed by Catalan regional authorities. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Police move back to their vans followed by members of the public after storming into polling station to confiscate ballot boxes and ballots where the President Carles Puigdemunt will vote later today on October 1, 2017 in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain. More than five million elegible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for the Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Police move in on members of the public gathered outside to prevent them from voting in the referendum at a polling station where the President Carles Puigdemunt will vote later today on October 1, 2017 in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain. More than five million elegible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for the Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
A couple kiss as people gather outside the Industry School of Barcelona on October 1, 2017 to wait for the results of a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid. At least 92 people were injured in Catalonia as police and protesters clashed over a banned independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, the Catalan government said. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENAPAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Pro-referendum supporters create a barricade to prevent police officers gaining entry inside the Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station ahead of the closing of the polls on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: People keep watch for police from the fence of the Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Pro-referendum supporters gather inside the Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station ahead of the closing of the polls on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Spanish Civil Guard officers break through a door at a polling station for the banned independence referendum where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was supposed to vote in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Juan Medina
SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: A man and a child holding a red flower run from the police as they move in on the crowds as members of the public gather outside to prevent them from stopping the opening and the intended voting in the referendum at a polling station where the Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont will vote later today on October 1, 2017 in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain. More than five million elegible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for the Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
SANT JULIA DE RAMIS, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: A woman waits for assistance after being injured during clashes with police officers as members of the public gathered outside to prevent them from voting in the referendum at a polling station where the President Carles Puigdemunt will vote later today on October 1, 2017 in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain. More than five million elegible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for the Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Civil Guard officers face members of the public outside a polling station used for the banned referendum, in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain, on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish police moved in to shut down some polling stations as voting began Sunday in Catalonia?s illegal referendum on independence. Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg
A man is grabbed by civil guards in Sant Julia de Ramis, near Girona, Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Scuffles have erupted as voters protested while dozens of anti-rioting police broke into a polling station where the regional leader was expected to show up for voting on Sunday. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: People protest as police try to control the area in their attempt to cast their ballot today at a polling station in the referendum vote on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SPAIN OUT. During the '1-O Catalan independence referendum' spanish National Police and Civil guards prevent people from entering to the polling centers to vote. Barcelona, Spain, on October 01, 2017. Photo by Almagro/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)
People clash with Spanish police officers outside the Ramon Llull polling station in Barcelona October 1, 2017 during a referendum on independence for Catalonia banned by Madrid. Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations in Catalonia on Sunday as thousands flooded the streets to vote in an independence referendum banned by Madrid. / AFP PHOTO / Fabio BucciarelliFABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images
People tend to an injured woman lay on the ground following clashes between Civil Guard officers and members of the public outside a polling station used for the banned referendum, in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain, on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish police moved in to shut down some polling stations as voting began Sunday in Catalonia?s illegal referendum on independence. Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Pro-referendum supporters lock a gate to a polling station as members of the Spanish National Police arrived to control the area during voting at the Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Pro-referendum supporters lock a gate to a polling station as members of the Spanish National Police arrived to control the area during voting at the Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Emergency services attend to a woman on a stretcher following clashes between Civil Guard officers and members of the public outside a polling station used for the banned referendum, in Sant Julia de Ramis, Spain, on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish police moved in to shut down some polling stations as voting began Sunday in Catalonia?s illegal referendum on independence. Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg
Demonstrators wave Spanish flags and support police during a demonstration in favor of a unified Spain on the day of a banned independence referendum in Catalonia, in Madrid, Spain, October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 01: Crowds gather to cast their ballot in the referendum vote at Escola Industrial of Barcelona school polling station on October 1, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. More than five million eligible Catalan voters are estimated to visit 2,315 polling stations today for Catalonia's referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government in Madrid has declared the vote illegal and undemocratic. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Spanish National Police officers in plain clothes try to snatch a ballot box from polling station officials at the Ramon Llull school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona, Spain, early Sunday, 1 Oct. 2017. The Spanish government and its security forces are trying to prevent voting in the independence referendum, which is backed by Catalan regional authorities. Spanish officials had said force wouldn't be used, but that voting wouldn't be allowed. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
Mandatory Credit: Photo by QUIQUE GARCIA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9101406f) Some people cry as officers of the National Police remove material from a polling center set at Can Vilumara Secondary School in L�Hospitalet Llobregat, Barcelona, Catalonia, northeastern Spain, 01 October 2017. Spanish National Police officers and Civil guards have been deployed to prevent the people from entering to the polling centers to vote in the Catalan independence referendum, that has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, but many people have managed to do it. The police action has provocked clashes between pro-independence people and the police forces in some polling centers. Catalonia referendum in Barcelona, Spain - 01 Oct 2017
Mandatory Credit: Photo by JIM HOLLANDER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9101318z) An elderly Catalonian woman is allowed into the school polling station in Barcelona, Spain, 01 October 2017, as others wait for their turn to enter to cast their ballot in the Catalonian referendum. Catalonia is holding an independence referendum which has been declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Catalonia referendum in Barcelona, Spain - 01 Oct 2017
A citizen marks a "Yes" vote in the banned independence referendum while voting at a polling station in Barcelona, Spain, October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Pro-referendum supporters wait to enlist voters at a polling station used for the banned referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Spanish police moved in to shut down some polling stations as voting began Sunday in Catalonia?s illegal referendum on independence. Photographer: Geraldine Hope Ghelli/Bloomberg
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marta Perez/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9101187o) Mayoress of Barcelona, Ada Colau (R), casts her vote during the '1-O Referendum' at the civic center of La Sedeta, in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, on 01 October 2017. Spanish National Police officers and Civil guards have been deployed to prevent the people from entering to the polling centers to vote in the Catalan independence referendum, that has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, but many people have managed to do it. The police action has provocked clashes between pro-independence people and the police forces. Catalan independence referendum, Barcelona, Spain - 01 Oct 2017
Pro independences supporters cover with ''esteleda'' or Catalan pro independence flags a mock ballot boxe in support of the Catalonia's secession referendum, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. Catalonia's regional government is holding a referendum Sunday on the possibility of breaking away from Spain, despite Spain's Constitutional Court ordering the vote to be suspended and prompting a police crackdown. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
People display a huge Spanish flag during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
People wave Spanish, Catalan (known as Senyera) and European flags during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Demonstrators shout during a protest in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, at Sant Jaume square in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Alberto Estevez/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9100764p) People gather at plaza Sant Jaume during a protest called by the Civic Movement of Spain and Catalans under the slogan 'Catalonia is Spain. Democracy, Future and Freedom', in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, 30 September 2017. Catalonia is to hold an independence referendum on 01 October in spite of it has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Anti-independence referendum demonstration in Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain - 30 Sep 2017
Protestores wave Spanish flags while demonstrating to defend the unity of Spain and against a disputed referendum on the region's independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday, in Barcelona Saturday, Sept. 30 2017. Catalonia's planned referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain's government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Spanish National Police officers watch demonstrators defending the unity of Spain and against a disputed referendum on the region's independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday, in Barcelona Saturday, Sept. 30 2017. Catalonia's planned referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain's government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Demonstrators scale the City Hall building and rip a banner reading "More democracy" during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Pro independence supporters hold mock electoral ballots during a rally in support of the Catalonia's secession referendum, in Bilbao, northern Spain, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Catalonia's planned referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain's government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
People gather at Sant Jaume square during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Alberto Estevez/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9100764g) Tourists takes pictures of the protest called by the Civic Movement of Spain and Catalans at plaza Sant Jaume under the slogan 'Catalonia is Spain. Democracy, Future and Freedom', in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, 30 September 2017. Catalonia is to hold an independence referendum on 01 October in spite of it has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Anti-independence referendum demonstration in Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain - 30 Sep 2017
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Javier Zorrilla/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9100768a) Hundreds of people take part in a demonstration in support of a Catalan independence referendum, in Bilbao, Basque country, Spain, 30 September 2017. Catalonia is to hold an independence referendum on 01 October in spite of it has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Pro-independence referendum demonstration in Catalonia, Bilbao, Spain - 30 Sep 2017
People carry a Spanish flag during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A hand is seen through a giant Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) in the University of Barcelona's historic building a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Enrique Calvo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Young people hold a giant Spanish flag during a demonstration against independence in Catalonia, on September 30, 2017 in Barcelona. Hundreds of people, many waving red and yellow Spanish flags, rallied in Barcelona in favour of Spanish unity today, a day before a banned independence referendum in Catalonia. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
People attend a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
People carry a Spanish flag as they march during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
People at a cafe watch demonstrators marching to defend the unity of Spain and against a disputed referendum on the region's independence that separatist politicians want to hold Sunday, in Barcelona Saturday, Sept. 30 2017. Catalonia's planned referendum on secession is due to be held Sunday by the pro-independence Catalan government but Spain's government calls the vote illegal, since it violates the constitution, and the country's Constitutional Court has ordered it suspended. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
People march during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
People hold a Catalan flag, known as Senyera, as they march during a demonstration in favour of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Mandatory Credit: Photo by JUAN CARLOS CARDENAS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9100725a) A woman kisses the Spanish national flag and holds a poster reading 'Catalonia is Spain. Spain is not voted', during a protest called for by the Civic Movement of Spain and Catalans under the slogan 'Catalonia is Spain. Democracy, Future and Freedom', at the Urquinaona square in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, 30 September 2017. Catalonia is to hold an independence referendum on 01 October in spite of it has been banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Demonstration in support of Spain's unity in Barcelona - 30 Sep 2017
Photo Gallery: At least 300 people, including 12 officers, were hurt in clashes during the independence vote.

Preliminary results announced by the Catalan government asserted that 90 percent of the 2.2 million voters — a turnout of 42 percent — supported independence.

"No society should accept a status quo it doesn't want, against its will, through force and beatings, and this can only be resolved with democracy," Puigdemont said in his BBC interview. 

"There are people who interpret the constitution like the Bible, that it contains absolute truths, that it's more important than the will of the people," he said.

The decision by the high court to pursue sedition charges could lead to another showdown.

The top target of the probe is the chief of Catalonia's regional police, Josep Lluís Trapero, whose officers refused to assist in a raid last month at Catalan government offices, where 14 officials were arrested and millions of ballots seized.

The criminal complaint also named Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of two civic associations that support breaking away from Spain.

The head of the union that represents the Guardia Civil, a paramilitary police force sent to quash a vote declared illegal by the central government, said that his officers were subjected to harassment "and vilified by the citizens they serve." 

He called for reinforcements to be sent to Catalonia.

In a rare and remarkable address to the nation on Tuesday night, the king told the nation that the separatist authorities in Catalonia had acted "totally outside law and democracy" by staging a vote that sought to break Spain apart.

The Catalan leader replied to the king in his remarks and chastised him, in polite Spanish, for not offering any words of condolence for the hundreds of Catalans injured by baton-wielding Spanish police during the chaotic referendum.

"You disappointed a lot of people in Catalonia who appreciate you and helped the monarchy in difficult times," Puigdemont said.

Raúl Gallego Abellán contributed to this report.

Read more:         

Related: Chaotic, violent referendum in Catalonia shows landslide support for secession  

Related: With threats and taunts, Catalonia and Spain map out their next moves 

Related: Spain’s king calls independence vote by Catalonia ‘totally outside law and democracy’   

Related: Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world            

Related: Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news         


William Booth is The Post’s London bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Jerusalem, Mexico City, Los Angeles and Miami.

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