The head of Catalonia's leading party in favor of remaining a part of Spain says a big turnout in upcoming elections will be key to stifling the region's secession movement.
Ines Arrimadas of the center-right Citizens Party tells Catalan public television TV3 that "we have it in our hands to end the independence movement and starting a new era for Catalonia."
A government poll issued hours before campaigning officially kicked off at midnight Monday points to a tight race between Citizens and the leading pro-secession party in the Dec. 21 election. That means Arrimadas is one of the leading candidates to take over as regional president.
Spain's government used extraordinary powers to call snap elections for Catalonia after it deposed a pro-secession government following an Oct. 1 plebiscite that backed secession.
The fugitive leader of Catalonia is urging voters to consider upcoming elections a plebiscite on the region's secession movement to break away from Spain.
Carles Puigdemont opened the official campaigning period at midnight Monday by speaking to a rally in northeastern Spain via video from Brussels, where he and four other members of his deposed government fled over a month ago.
Puigdemont told the other candidates of his Together for Catalonia list that the Dec. 21 vote should be "the second part" of the referendum that his government held on secession Oct. 1 despite it being banned by Spain's highest court.
Spain's government used extraordinary powers to call snap elections for Catalonia after it deposed Puigdemont's government in a crackdown to impede secession.
Thousands of Catalan separatists are rallying in town squares across the northeastern Spanish region to protest for the release of the four remaining leaders of the secession movement still in prison.
Several protesters held up signs saying "Freedom for Political Prisoners."
The latest protest by Catalan separatists comes hours after a judge granted bail to six former members of Catalonia's regional Cabinet on Monday. They were released from prisons near Madrid since being jailed in early November after depositing 100,000-euro ($118,000) in bail.
However, the same Supreme Court judge continued to deny bail to four others, including the Catalan ex-vice president, the former regional interior minister and two activists.
The separatist leaders were jailed as part of an investigation into their role in Catalonia's secession movement which culminated in an illegal declaration of independence on Oct. 27.
Six Catalan politicians have left jails near Madrid after lawyers paid the 100,000-euro ($118,000) bail a judge had set for each earlier on Monday.
Two cabinet ministers from the Catalonia region's ousted government were released from a women's jail in Alcala Meco in the afternoon. Four male colleagues left the Estremera prison, some 50 kilometers Southeast of Madrid, in the evening.
All remain under investigation for possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in connection with an independence declaration the regional parliament in Catalonia made in late October.
A Supreme Court judge ruled Monday that four more members of the Catalan independence movement must remain jailed without bail. They include former regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras.
The released politicians didn't speak to reporters. They were expected to travel to Catalonia and join campaign events for the early election the Spanish government has called for Dec. 21.
The spokeswoman for a leading Catalan separatist party says a judge's decision to keep the region's former vice president jailed was politically motivated.
Republican Left of Catalonia party spokeswoman Marta Rovira said Monday's ruling by a Supreme Court judge in Madrid was an attempt to sideline Oriol Junqueras from running in a regional election this month.
Junqueras, who was removed as Catalonia's vice president by the Spanish government along with other top officials, is leading the ERC party's ticket in the Dec. 21 election.
The early election is an attempt to find a democratic way out of the political crisis sparked by the push for independence led by the ousted regional government.
The vote is shaping up as a plebiscite between those for and against secession from Spain, with polls predicting a close race between the two camps.
Rovira said the jailing "is a very clear attempt to win these elections without political adversaries."
A government-commissioned poll says that pro-independence parties will lose their slim majority in the Catalan parliament in elections later this month, foreshadowing a complicated route to post-election deals to form a new government.
The much-watched CIS survey released Monday says that the three separatist parties in the parliament would win 66 or 67 seats in a new Catalan parliament.
The three held a narrow majority of 72 out of the 135 seats until the chamber was dissolved last month.
The Dec. 21 shapes up as a close race between the left republican ERC party and the opposition business-friendly Ciutadans (Citizens), with 21 and 22.5 percent share of votes respectively and close to 32 seats apiece in the new legislative body, said the CIS survey.
The CIS said the poll had a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points. It said 3,000 people were quizzed via telephone calls from Nov. 23 to 27.
Separatist groups in Catalonia are calling for protests Monday in front of town halls across the region in response to the decision by a Spanish judge to reject releasing their jailed leaders and other prominent politicians.
Omnium Cultural said in a statement that it considered "arbitrary and unfair" the decision by the Supreme Court judge to keep in custody the group's president Jordi Cuixart and three other jailed separatists. It welcomed the bail set for the release of six other politicians.
Assemblea Nacional Catalana, the other key grassroots organization in the Catalan independence bid, also decried in a separate statement the custodies of its former president Jordi Sanchez, Catalan ex Vice President Oriol Junqueras, former regional minister of interior Joaquim Forn and Omnium's Cuixart.
Both groups called for Catalans to come out to vote in Dec. 21 regional elections.
The ballots "must be an opportunity to stand for the civil rights and freedoms which have been violated by the Spanish state," said Omnium's statement.
The lawyers for Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont and four of his separatist allies say that the five will be judged on whether they can be extradited from Belgium to Spain on Dec. 14, exactly one week before a key regional election in Catalonia in which they are all running for re-election.
The group is refusing to return to Spain to face rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges that can be punished with decades in prison under the country's criminal laws.
Puigdemont's defense lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said that on Monday the prosecutor sought the extradition of the five but Bekaert insisted that the Spanish charges are not punishable in Belgium and thus were no grounds for extradition.
"We also highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights in Spain," he said.
A Spanish judge has ordered the release of six Catalan politicians but upheld the jailing of two separatist activists and two other prominent members of the regional government ousted over a month ago amid an unprecedented independence bid.
Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena on Monday ordered ousted Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, the former regional interior minister Joaquim Forn and the leaders of two Catalan grassroots separatist groups to remain in jail without bail.
The judge considers that it remains to be seen if their pledges to abide by Spanish law and renounce unilateral independence for Catalonia is "truthful and real," according to a statement by the Supreme Court.
Llarena set bail at 100,000 euros (US$118,000 dollars) for the six other Catalan politicians who were jailed in November on preliminary charges of rebellion and other offenses.
A judge decides Monday if jailed Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists should be released, paving the way for them to join campaigning in a polarized regional election this month.
The full Catalan cabinet was ousted over a month ago for making an independence declaration and its members are facing rebellion and other charges punishable with decades in prison.
Eight former Catalan officials jailed near Madrid have pledged to give up unilateral independence for the wealthy region in the hope of being freed.
The remaining ex ministers and former regional president Carles Puigdemont are in Belgium, fighting extradition to Spain.
Two separatist activists facing sedition charges are also expecting a decision over their jailing orders by the same Supreme Court magistrate.
The Dec. 21 ballot is shaping up as a plebiscite between those for and against independence.
Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four close separatist allies are to appear in a Brussels court again for extradition hearings and a possible decision whether they will have to be sent back to Spain.
Monday's court hearing in Brussels for the five Catalans is the latest step in their flight from Spain and their refusal to return to face rebellion and sedition charges.
Puigdemont plans to lead his party's campaign for the Dec. 21 election called by Spain's government in an attempt to find a democratic fix to the nation's worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.
Whatever decision is made on Monday, two appeals will be possible and a final ruling could well only come only after the vote.
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