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AFGHANISTAN

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul

Spain said on Friday that it has ended its evacuations out of Kabul, just over a week after it began airlifting its citizens in the wake of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

Spain ends evacuations of Afghan collaborators and their families from Kabul
Refugees queue on the tarmac after disembarking from an evacuation flight from Kabul, at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

“The Spanish evacuation of its Afghan collaborators and their families has been completed,” the government said in a statement.

Two final flights landed in Dubai early Friday morning, it added.

On board were 81 Spanish citizens who had still been in Afghanistan, including embassy personnel, army and navy troops, four Portuguese troops and 85 Afghans who had been working for Spain, Portugal and NATO.

They will fly on to the military base of Torrejón de Ardoz, near Madrid, in the afternoon on an Air Europa plane, the government said.

In total, the Spanish armed forces have evacuated 1,900 Afghans, employees and their families who were working for Spain, the United States, Portugal, the European Union, the United Nations and NATO, as well as the staff of the Spanish embassy in Kabul.

Madrid used military planes to fly the evacuees to Dubai, where they then transferred to commercial flights to Europe.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had vowed to evacuate “as many people as possible” out of Kabul following the twin suicide bombings at the Afghan capital’s airport.

During the hugely complex evacuation operations put in place after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, Spain flew out a lot of Afghan employees of EU institutions, who are housed at the Torrejón de Ardoz base before being distributed among EU member states.

Spain has also agreed to host up to 4,000 Afghans who will be airlifted by the United States to airbases in Rota and Moron de la Frontera in southern Spain.

Under an agreement signed by Madrid and Washington, the evacuees may stay at the airbases, which are used jointly by the United States and Spain, for up to 15 days.

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POLITICS

Spain opens ‘terrorism’ probe into Catalan separatist leader

Spain's top court said Thursday it was opening an investigation into Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on "terrorism" charges over protests linked to the failed 2017 Catalan independence bid.

Spain opens 'terrorism' probe into Catalan separatist leader

In a statement, the Supreme Court said it had decided “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute” Puigdemont “for terrorism offences in relation to the Democratic Tsunami case”.

Democratic Tsunami is a secretive Catalan protest group behind a string of protests after Spain jailed 13 pro-independence leaders, two years after their botched bid to break away from Spain.

The independence bid had sparked the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

On the day the sentence was handed down in October 2019, thousands of activists blocked access to Barcelona airport for several hours, prompting the cancellation of over 100 flights.

During clashes between police and protesters, 115 were injured.

In its decision, the court referred to the crime of “street terrorism”.

The aim, it said, was to “undermine law and order, to seriously breach the peace, to cause causing serious harm to the functioning of an international organisation or to cause a sense of terror within the population or part of it”.

There was “evidence pointing to Carles Puigdemont’s participation in the events under investigation”, the ruling added, referring to his involvement in the creation of the group whose aim was “to subvert law and order and to seriously destabilise democratic institutions”.

READ ALSO: Judge in Spain extends probe into Catalan separatist’s ‘Russia ties’

Puigdemont unmoved

Puigdemont, who lives in self-exile in Brussels and is a member of the European Parliament, reacted drily on X.

“The same day they accuse me of receiving a 7,000-euro Rolex watch, they charge me with being a terrorist. All I need now is a secret bank account in Panama,” he wrote on X.

He was referring to an article published in El Confidencial newspaper which said he had been given a Rolex watch by a company behind a string of separatist events, including the Democratic Tsunami protests.

The court’s decision will complicate life for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose minority left-wing government relies on Puigdemont’s hardline separatist JxCat party for parliamentary support.

Spain’s government is currently in the process of drawing up an amnesty law that was demanded by Puigdemont’s party in exchange for crucial parliamentary support in a November vote to reappoint Sánchez as premier.

The draft law, which was shot down by lawmakers in late January, is currently being reformulated but will essentially offer an amnesty to those wanted by the justice system over the failed independence bid, notably Puigdemont.

The move has sparked fury among Spain’s right-wing opposition, which sees Puigdemont as public enemy number one.

It has also stoked opposition from within Sánchez’s Socialist party.

Puigdemont is already wanted in Spain for his role in the secession bid, and the courts will need the European Parliament’s permission to question him in this latest case.

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