Thousands turn up at court to support Catalan leader

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Thousands waving Catalan independence flags rallied Thursday in support of regional acting President Artur Mas who was being questioned at a Barcelona court for holding a symbolic referendum on secession from Spain.
   
Some 400 pro-independence mayors and independence party leaders joined Mas and his government councilors as he walked parade-style to the court building, cheered on by some 5,000 supporters. Chants of "Independence! Independence!" and "This court does not represent us!" rang out as Mas stopped to salute the crowd at the building's steps.

Speaking later, Mas said he accepted full responsibility for last year's referendum and accused the central Spanish government in Madrid of turning what he considered a democratic process into a criminal one.

Mas is under investigation for grave disobedience, abuse of public funds, prevarication, usurping powers and obstructing justice. If tried and found guilty, he could face disqualification from office or up to one year in jail. Two associates are also under investigation.

The probe was opened after Catalonia went ahead with the Nov. 9, 2014 referendum, defying a ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court. In the mock poll, less than half of those eligible took part, with some 80 percent voting in favor of breaking away from Spain.

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