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Spain levels rebellion charges against Catalan separatist leaders

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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Catalan politician Jordi Turull, centre, walks with his wife Blanca Bragulat after he was formally charged with rebellion by Spain's Supreme Court in Madrid on Friday. (Reuters)

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  • Spain's Supreme Court has charged 13 leaders of the Catalan separatist movement with rebellion
  • Police in France stormed a supermarket in the southern town of Trèbes this morning, shooting a suspect dead and freeing several hostages
  • For those who can't get enough of Hello Kitty, West Japan Railway will launch its "Hello Kitty Shinkansen" bullet train service this summer

Spain to try Catalan 'rebels'

Spain's Supreme Court has charged 13 leaders of the Catalan separatist movement with rebellion — a crime punishable by up to 30 years in jail — for their roles in last year's referendum and independence declaration.

In a decision released this morning, Judge Pablo Llarena said the politicians and public figures had, "colluded" for more than six years to plan an "attack on the constitutional State that, with the will to impose a change in the form of government for Catalonia and the rest of the country, encompasses an unusual gravity and persistence."

Catalan separatists Carme Forcadell, left, Dolors Bassa and Raul Romeva arrive at the Supreme Court in Madrid on March 23. They were summoned by a judge over their role in Catalonia's independence drive. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images)
The ruling, which brings an end to a four-month judicial investigation, names Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's deposed president, as well as the man who is trying to take his place, Jordi Turull.

Turull, Pugidemont's former chief of staff, narrowly lost a parliamentary ballot Thursday that would have made him Catalan's new president. Another vote is scheduled for tomorrow. The region has been under Madrid's direct rule since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the separatist government and ordered new elections last October.

Former vice-president Oriol Junqueras and ex-speaker Carme Forcadell are among the group of 13, as are well-known independence supporters Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. Another defendant, Marta Rovira, announced that she has fled the country.

Catalan separatist leaders Jordi Turull, right, and Josep Rull arrive at the Supreme Court in Madrid on March 23. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
"Today I undertake a hard road, a path that, unfortunately, so many others that preceded us have had to take," she wrote in a letter posted on the website of her Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party. "The path of exile."

It's not clear if she will seek to join Puigdemont and other leaders who sought refuge in Belgium last fall.

Puigdemont, who is in Helsinki today, told reporters that he hasn't discussed exile with her or any of the others, but understands and supports Rovira's decision.

"It is not right for a judge to do politics," said the ex-president.

No date has been set for the trial. The judge's ruling set a collective 2.1 million euro ($3.3 million CDN) bond for the former members of Puigdemont's cabinet who remain in Spain.

The deposed leader of Catalonia's pro-independence party, Carles Puigdemont, prepares to give a lecture Friday at the University of Helsinki, Finland. 'It is not right for a judge to do politics,' he said. (Markku Ulander/Associated Press)
In all, 25 separatists now face charges of rebellion, misappropriating public funds for the independence vote, or disobeying the state.

The most serious charges, those of rebellion, might be difficult to prove. Under Spanish law, as noted in this academic analysis, the offence is defined as "the act of violently and publicly uprising with the aim of fully or partially repealing, suspending or amending the constitution, or of declaring independence."  

The only violence in last October's referendum came from Spanish police who beat people lining up at polling stations.

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Attack in France

Police in France brought a dramatic end to a suspected terrorist attack this morning, storming a supermarket in the southern town of Trèbes, shooting a suspect dead, and freeing several hostages.

At least three people are reported to have been killed in the man's morning-long spree, which began in the nearby municipality of Carcassonne when he hijacked a car, executing a passenger and wounding its driver.

The attacker then fired several shots at a group of police officers who were out for a morning jog, hitting one in the chest. (Reports say the officer, who had a bullet pierce his lung, is in serious but stable condition.)

Masked police officers are seen after their assault on the Super U supermarket in Trebes, France, where a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State was holding hostages (Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA-EFE)
Afterwards, the man drove to Trèbes, about 10 kilometres away, parked his car, and entered a Super-U grocery store. Many shoppers fled and several others hid in a cold storage area. Witnesses report that the suspect was armed with a pistol, knife and hand-grenades.

Eric Ménassi, the mayor of Trèbes, told a French television network that the man entered the store screaming "Allahu Akbar, I'll kill you all."

One of the first gendarmes on the scene in Trèbes made contact with the man and volunteered to swap places with one of his hostages. The 45-year-old lieutenant-colonel kept an open line on his cellphone so his colleagues could listen in. When they later heard gunshots, police stormed the market and killed the gunman.

The officer, now being hailed as a hero, was seriously wounded.

Police officers gather outside the Super U supermarket after the hostages were freed on Friday. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)
Authorities are describing the attacks as a terrorist incident. The hostage-taker, identified as a 26-year-old of Moroccan descent, is reported to have pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State during conversations with police, and had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the group that carried out the deadly Bataclan attacks in Paris in November 2015.

Gérard Collomb, France's interior minister, travelled to the scene in Trèbes and told reporters that the man was known to authorities, but not as a suspected radical.

"He was known for petty crimes, he was a small-time dealer," said Collomb. "We were watching him and we thought that there wasn't any radicalization, but he suddenly transitioned."

The Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for today's attack.

The hostage-taker, identified as a 26-year-old of Moroccan descent, is reported to have pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State during conversations with police. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)
France's last major terror incident came in October 2017, when a knife-wielding man stabbed two young women to death in Marseille's main train station.

President Emmanuel Macron introduced tough new anti-terror legislation later that month, and officially lifted a two-year-old national state of emergency — in place since the 130 Bataclan deaths — at the beginning of November.

But police continue to be on high-alert.

In February, Collomb revealed that two potential attacks had been disrupted over the first two months of 2018, one targeting a major sports stadium, and the other French soldiers.

Hello Kitty ad nauseam

If you are travelling from Osaka to Fukuoka this summer — and you have the sensibilities of a six-year-old girl — you are in luck.

For that is when West Japan Railway will launch its "Hello Kitty Shinkansen" bullet train service.

An artist's impression of the Hello Kitty bullet train. (JR West)
The 611 kilometre trip only takes two hours and 20 minutes, so why not take it in a specially themed train, decorated "snappily and adorably" inside and out with pictures of the mouthless, bow-wearing icon of Japanese childhood?

The railway is even promising to turn one of the eight cars into a shop filled with "local specialities" — and presumably, plenty of Hello Kitty merchandise.

The transportation crossover was probably inevitable. Japan has already seen Hello Kitty-themed buses and aircraft.

And Sanrio, the conglomerate that owns the mute cat and her cartoon chums, is one of the world's more aggressive licensers. In fact, in 2016, it ranked 12th out of 150 global firms, sharing in some $4.4 billion US in retail revenue from some 50,000 Kitty and friends-branded products.

If you can think of it, chances are that there is a Hello Kitty version out there. Everything from plus-size fashions, to Puma sneakers, to soy sauce dispensers and Happy Meals.

An EVA air plane decorated with Hello Kitty, seen in Taiwan in October 2005. It was dressed up for flights on the route from Taipei to Japan's Fukuoka. (Sam Yeh/Getty Images)
Wine? But of course, monsieur. (Provided you enjoy it extra sweet and bubbly.)

If you can't get enough '70s and '80s nostalgia, there are Hello Kitty mash-ups with Barbie and Pac-Man.

Want to go to a Hello Kitty Night at a Major League Baseball park? Dodger Stadium, April 20 vs. the Washington Nationals.

And while you're in Southern California, why not stop by one of two Hello Kitty cafes, located in Arcadia, and the Looney Tunes-stronghold of Rancho Cucamonga? The menu features plenty of ultra-sugary treats, like $5.50 strawberry dream smoothies and even more saccharine merchandise, to whit the $30 "chubby bunny bow."

An emergency toilet featuring Hello Kitty branding. (Adam Walsh/CBC)
For a while, there was a blog devoted to tracking Hello Kitty's relentless commercial advance, subtitled "one man's hell with cute overload." But he appears to have given up — it hasn't been updated in three years, several plush-and-cuddly internet lifetimes ago.

The straw that broke the camel's back?

Maybe it was Hello Kitty kitty litter.

Sadly, it appears to be available only in Germany.

Quote of the moment

"We hope that there will be more people in the U.S. leadership who will be able to distance itself from the wave of the Russophobia that has now swept up many countries, including the United States."

- Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, reacting the newest wave of staff changes at Donald Trump's White House.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. (Sergei Karpukhin/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Ottawa vows to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit communities by 2030 (CBC)
  • Car bombs and assassination squads: drug kingpin's son describes his childhood (LA Times)
  • Judge rules that North Bay grandparents don't owe child support (CBC)
  • Amazon's latest patent is a drone that responds to people waving, shouting (The Verge)
  • Opinion: John Bolton's mustache more qualified to be national security advisor than him (CNN)
  • South Korea to shut off computers to stop people working late (BBC)
  • Every Wes Anderson film, ranked from worst to best (Vulture)
  • Pope backs tattoos (Telegraph)

Today in history

March 23, 1979: Women who fish file human-rights complaint

Forty years ago, the Unemployment Insurance Commission treated men differently than it treated women, even when they fished on the same boats. Bud Cullen, the minister of Employment and Immigration, admits as much to a CBC News camera, but maintains it was really for the women's good. The Canadian Human Rights Commission wasn't buying it.

In Newfoundland and B.C., women who earn a living by fishing say they face discrimination when filing for unemployment insurance benefits. 2:15

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.