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HUNDREDS gathered outside a courtroom in Madrid today as a dozen leaders of Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid appeared for the opening of Spain’s “trial of the century.”
The defendants face charges including rebellion and sedition, with some facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
They are held responsible for the semi-autonomous region’s declaration of independence weeks after an October 2017 referendum that Madrid deemed illegal.
The national government consequently imposed direct rule, issuing arrest warrants for a number of high-profile separatists.
Former regional president Carles Puigdemont fled the country and is now in exile in Belgium.
Vice-president Oriol Junqueras faces a 25-year sentence if found guilty of rebellion; former speaker of the Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell could receive 17 years.
Andreu van den Eynde, a lawyer for Mr Junqueras, said the case was a defence of free expression, the right to protest and the right to vote.
“We will not make a political defence but we will defend human values and rights,” he said, arguing that the defendants had already faced legal proceedings in which “every constitutional right has been restricted.”
The trial is expected to last three months.
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