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Mar 24, 1:44 PM EDT

Catalonia's parliament suspends vote on jailed candidate

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- The speaker of Catalonia's parliament suspended a scheduled vote Saturday to elect a jailed separatist leader as the new regional president of the restive northeastern corner of Spain.

Speaker Roger Torrent communicated his decision to the heads of the different parties moments before he announced to the chamber that there would be no vote on the candidacy of Jordi Turull, a former regional minister.

Turull was one of five high-profile separatists jailed without bail Friday by a Spanish Supreme Court judge for their alleged roles in a failed independence bid by Catalonia from Spain in October.

Judge Pablo Llarena charged 13 Catalans with rebellion, a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The separatist parties used Saturday's parliamentary session to denounce what they considered the heavy hand of Spanish law.

"Yesterday the Spanish state didn't imprison five good people. It imprisoned 2 million people and spat in their faces," said Sergi Sabria of the Republican Left in reference to the number of Catalan voters who cast ballots for pro-independence parties in December. "We received a very hard blow yesterday ... butut we must pick ourselves up quickly to build a future for all."

The leader of Citizens, a pro-Spain party which holds the most seats in the Barcelona-based house, used the moment to claim the secession movement was crushed.

"Enough is enough. The independence moment has lost. It has failed," Citizens leader Ines Arrimadas said. "I only ask you that you stop thinking only about your voters, because you have generated worry, fear, indignation and shame for what is happening in Catalonia. We have warned you for years that the secession push will only end in a collective sense of frustration."

The judge also activated international arrest warrants for six fugitive Catalan politicians, including former regional Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October.

Puigdemont was visiting Finland when the warrant was issued, but both his lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, and Finnish parliament member Mikko Karna, who had invited him to visit, told The Associated Press that Puigdemont left the country on Friday evening.

Karna said he believed Puigdemont had returned to Brussels.

The crackdown on the secession movement provoked protests in Catalonia on Friday night. Emergency services said 35 people were injured in clashes with police in Barcelona.

Spain's worst political conflict in three decades reached its climax in October when Puigdemont flouted a ban by the country's top court to stop an ad-hoc referendum on Catalan independence. His subsequent declaration of a Catalan republic received no international recognition and provoked a takeover by Spain's central powers.

The Spanish Constitution says the European Union nation is indivisible and any changes to its top law must pass through the national parliament in Madrid.

Polls show Catalans are equally divided on the secession issue, with pro-secession parties maintaining a slim hold on the regional legislature in December elections.

The failure of Turull to be elected on a first vote Thursday started a two-month countdown to elect a new regional leader before a new election is automatically triggered.


Aritz Parra contributed to his report from Madrid.

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