Spanish court says proposed Catalan leader must stay in jail

March 9, 2018 8:18 AM EST

Jordi Sanchez (C) of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) is seen upon his arrival to appear before a judge at Spain's High Court in Madrid, Spain, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Javier Barbancho

By Raquel Castillo and Jesús Aguado

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Supreme Court on Friday turned down a request by Catalan regional presidential candidate Jordi Sanchez to be allowed out of jail to attend a parliamentary session to swear in a new leader, in a further blow to the region's bid to split from Spain.

Catalonia's parliament is expected to meet on Monday to vote on the region's new leader. Sanchez was put forward as a candidate by secessionist parties as a substitute for Carles Puigdemont, the movement's figurehead.

Sanchez is in jail awaiting trial on charges of rebellion and sedition over his role in orchestrating pro-independence protests last year during which national police were trapped inside a Barcelona building and their vehicles destroyed.

Spain's central government swept in to take control of the northeastern region after it declared independence in October in an act courts said was illegal and against the country's constitution.

The government called regional elections in an attempt to derail the independence movement, but the move backfired when parties favoring a split from Spain won the most parliamentary seats.

However, with many senior secessionist figures in jail or self-imposed exile in Belgium, the parliament is struggling to elect a head and start governing.

Former regional head Puigdemont, in Brussels since October, withdrew his bid for a second term in office on March 1.

The new candidate, Sanchez, had asked the judge handling his case for permission to leave prison to attend Monday's parliamentary session in Barcelona.

In a 26-page ruling, Spanish judge Pablo Llarena based his decision not to let Sanchez out on his belief there was a risk of a repeat offence.

A Catalan parliament spokesman said Monday's parliamentary session would still go ahead.

On Friday, the Spanish government's spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo reiterated that any candidate put forward to lead Catalonia should not be in jail or under judicial investigation.

(Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Andrew Roche)

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