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Catalonia leader to be tried over separatist propaganda during election

FILE PHOTO: Catalan Regional President Quim Torra is seen ahead of a rally of Catalan separatist organisations, in Madrid, Spain March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - The leader of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Quim Torra, will be tried for disobedience after he failed to obey an order to remove separatist propaganda from public offices during election campaigning, the regional court said on Friday.

During campaigning for national and local elections in April and May regional leaders were required to remove partisan messages from public offices. But Torra continued to display yellow ribbons - a protest against the jailing of Catalan independence leaders - from government buildings.

He could be removed from office for up to two years for failing to comply with the order. The court announced its intention to try him in a tweet.

Torra has said he disobeyed because the order was at odds with a resolution adopted by the Catalan parliament and the character of the yellow ribbons was open to subjective interpretation.

Many of the politicians and civil leaders involved in a failed push for secession for the wealthy region two years ago were subsequently arrested, and are now awaiting the decision of the courts, or fled the country and live in self-imposed exile.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades in 2017 when the then-government of Catalonia called a referendum on secession and then unilaterally declared independence, actions that were both ruled illegal by the constitutional court.

The central government invoked a constitutional law to take over the regional authority and called an election, however pro-secessionist parties won a majority and put Torra, a pro-independence activist, in as regional leader.

In a letter to the electoral body that made the order, Torra said in March he would not remove the ribbons as he had a duty to respect the right to freedom of expression of public employees.

Polls show around half of the electorate in Catalonia supports independence while the other half wishes to stay within Spain.

Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Frances Kerry