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Catalan separatists trial: Here are five things you need to know

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The high-stakes trial of 12 Catalan separatist leaders over their role in Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid is due to wrap up on Wednesday after four months of hearings.

Here are five key facts about the trial:

– Who are the accused ?

Nine former ministers in Catalonia’s regional government, including former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, as well as the ex-speaker of Catalonia’s parliament, Carme Forcadell.

Also on trial were the leaders at the time of the secession attempt of the two biggest grassroots pro-independence associations in Catalonia, Jordi Sanchez of ANC and Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural.

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– What are they accused of?

They are accused of breaking the law by helping organise a referendum despite a court ban before making a short-lived declaration of independence in October 2017, sparking Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Public prosecutors argue they carried out a “perfectly planned strategy… to break the constitutional order and obtain the independence of Catalonia” illegally.

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– Rebellion?

Nine of the 12 Catalan leaders have been controversially charged with rebellion, which according to Spanish law implies a violent uprising against the state.

The leaders of a failed 1981 coup, which saw a group of Civil Guard police burst into parliament firing shots in the air and taking lawmakers hostage, were convicted of rebellion.

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To justify the charge, prosecutors point to “aggressions” police officers say they suffered when they tried to stop the October 1, 2017 independence referendum from going ahead.

They also point to “violent incidents” in Barcelona on September 20, 2017 outside a Catalan government building raided by police as part of a crackdown against referendum preparations. Protesters destroyed several police vehicles.

Prosecutors argue the defendants “fomented, favoured and sought the direct confrontation between the crowds of citizens and police”.

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The chief prosecutor of Spain’s National Court, Javier Zaragoza, has argued that “rebellion does not require serious violence or armed violence”.

But the decision to charge the Catalan leaders with rebellion deeply divides legal experts.

The defendants deny the secession bid involved any violence. They point out that police used batons and rubber bullets on would-be voters on the referendum day, images that tarnished Spain’s image.

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“If you read, listen and observe our actions, no one could have the least doubt that we reject violence,” Junqueras told the court in February.

Enrique Gimbernat, a criminal law professor at Madrid’s Complutense University, insists rebellion has been “proven” since the accused “told people to go vote (in the referendum)… knowing violence was inevitable”.

But Argelia Queralt, a constitutional law professor at the University of Barcelona, argues prosecutors misinterpreted the criminal code.

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While there were “acts against the constitution” and “some one-off” violent incidents during the referendum, there was no “clear violence” that could justify a rebellion charge, she adds.

The central government’s attorneys, who are representing the government against the defendants, share this view.

Unlike the prosecutors, who represent the state against the defendants, they decided not to seek rebellion charges, preferring instead the charge of sedition which carries a shorter prison term.

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– Misuse of public funds –

In addition to rebellion, prosecutors also accuse the nine former Catalan regional government ministers of misusing public funds to stage the banned referendum.

During the trial, experts from Spain’s finance ministry estimated that at least 917,000 euros ($1 million) in public money was used, mainly to finance a publicity campaign for the referendum.

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– Hefty sentences sought –

Prosecutors have called for jail terms of seven to 25 years in the case of Junqueras, who is the main defendant.

Seven other politicians involved in the independence push — including former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont — are in self-imposed exile abroad.

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The central government’s attorneys have asked for lower sentences of up to a maximum of 12 years in the case of Junqueras.


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Italy seizes air-to-air missile along with neo-Nazi propaganda and Hitler memorabilia from far-right sympathizers

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Italian police seized an air-to-air missile, machine guns and rocket launchers during raids sparked by an investigation into far-right extremist groups on Monday, a huge haul of weapons that authorities said was almost without precedent.

Police arrested three people, including Fabio Del Bergiolo, 50, a former candidate for the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party, whose home was found to contain a huge stash of arms as well as neo-Nazi propaganda and Hitler memorabilia.

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Fireflies’ glow could soon be extinguished by human actions

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Species’ extinction rates are accelerating on a global scale. We need solutions that match the severity of the problem.

Say goodbye to one of the dreamiest things about childhood. In the Midwest, fireflies are dying off.

For many Americans, it’s hard to imagine summer nights without the magical glow of dozens of bioluminescent bodies fluttering above the grasses and fields, and lighting up the dark skies above.

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World hunger on the rise with more than 820 million at risk, UN report says

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More than 821 million people suffered from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition worldwide last year, the United Nations reported Monday -- the third year in a row that the number has risen.

After decades of decline, food insecurity began to increase in 2015 and reversing the trend is one of the 2030 targets of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

But getting to a world where no one is suffering from hunger by then remains an "immense challenge," the report said.

"The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World" was produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other UN agencies including the World Health Organization.

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