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Spain's Supreme Court orders trial of former Catalan leaders

Court says 18 ex-Catalan leaders, including nine who are jailed, should be tried over independence declaration last year.

The Supreme Court in Spain has ordered 18 former Catalan leaders to stand trial over their role in the region's declaration of independence last year.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the court said nine jailed former leaders, including Catalonia's ex-Vice President Oriol Junqueras, should be tried for rebellion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

The other nine, who have been released on bail or went into self-imposed exile, face accusations ranging from rebellion to misuse of public funds.

Spain's public prosecutor is expected to formalise charges against the 18 individuals within the next five days. A trial would likely start next year. 

Catalonia's former President Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is not part of the group expected to stand trial because Spain does not allow trials in absentia. 

Puigdemont played a key role in the separatist drive which culminated with Catalonia's declaration of independence from Spain on October 27 last year following a banned secession referendum that was marred by violence.

The Catalan government said 90 percent voted for independence, but turnout was less than 50 percent. The referendum marked the northeastern region's second vote on independence in three years.

Spain's 1978 constitution decrees that the country is indivisible and grants the national government exclusive power to hold referendums.

Polls show Catalans are evenly split on the question of independence but the overwhelming majority back a legally binding vote to settle the issue.

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