Court condemns former Catalan chief for vote on independence

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) " 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 court in Barcelona ruled Monday.

The judge also required him to pay a fine of 36,500 euros ($38,900) and disqualified from politics for 21 and 18 months respectively two of his aides, former regional vice president Joana Ortega and education councilor Irene Rigau.

The three former officials will appeal 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 doesn't 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 organizing 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 northeastern 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, criticized 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," 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 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"What the Spanish judiciary has condemned today will be repealed by the Catalan people in a referendum to be held later this year," Puigdemont said Monday.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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