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article imageLeading Catalan separatist latest to leave Spain

By Nina Larson with Marianne Barriaux in Madrid (AFP)     Feb 20, 2018 in World

A former Catalan lawmaker and major figure in the region's secession drive has fled to Switzerland ahead of a court hearing and may seek asylum there, the sixth separatist to leave Spain in months.

In an interview with Switzerland's Le Temps newspaper published Tuesday, Anna Gabriel, a top member of the far-left separatist CUP party, said she had decided to leave as she would not have "a fair trial at home".

She also compared the situation in Catalonia, whose separatist leaders are under investigation for their attempt to break from Spain, to Turkey's post-coup crackdown.

"I won't go to Madrid. I'm wanted for my political activities and the government press has already declared me guilty," she told the paper.

"As I wouldn't get a fair trial at home, I looked for a country that could protect my rights."

Gabriel, in her early 40s, is the latest separatist to leave the country after deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four former regional ministers went to Belgium shortly after a failed bid to break from Spain.

She was due to appear before a Supreme Court judge on Wednesday over her role in Catalonia's failed independence drive, which eventually prompted Madrid to impose direct rule on the region in October, sack its government and dissolve its parliament.

Catalan separatists have held protests for months
Catalan separatists have held protests for months
Pau Barrena, AFP/File

The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) held the balance of power in Catalonia's parliament during that time, as Puigdemont's ruling coalition lacked a majority and relied on the smaller party's 10 seats to pass legislation and advance his independence "roadmap."

It called for action on the street after a banned independence referendum on October 1 was marred by police violence.

Gabriel is the party's most famous member, hugely popular with CUP supporters for her fiery speeches in parliament in favour of independence.

- Political asylum? -

In another interview with Swiss television RTS, she said she could seek asylum in Switzerland.

The former university law professor said she was first going to try to settle in the country and possibly get academic work.

But "if I can't because there is an extradition request, I will ask for political asylum," she said in fluent French.

It is possible that a Spanish court will launch an arrest warrant when Gabriel fails to turn up at Wednesday's court hearing in Madrid.

In Le Temps newspaper, Gabriel said she has got death threats from far-right extremists, and charged that the government was not "doing anything to safeguard our security faced with fascists' violence."

Gabriel accused Madrid of "repression," likening the situation in Catalonia with "what is happening right now in Turkey".

More than 55,000 people have been arrested in Turkey following the failed 2016 coup, including journalists, MPs and activists.

Gabriel said close to 900 people in Catalonia were either under investigation or had been charged, among them "teachers, police officers, politicians and even mere voters".

So far, four separatist leaders have been detained pending a probe into their role in the separatist drive on charges that include rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

These include Catalonia's former vice president Oriol Junqueras.

"I will be more useful to my movement free than behind bars," Gabriel said.

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