MADRID (AP) — Former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made a strident defense of Spain's national unity Wednesday when he appeared as a witness at the trial of a dozen Catalan separatists.
Rajoy told Spain's Supreme Court that he had warned Catalonia's separatist leaders on several occasions leading up to their failed 2017 secession attempt that "the law, the national sovereignty and the Constitution are non-negotiable."
The ex-leader of Spain's conservatives was unable to stop the separatists from holding an unauthorized referendum despite a violent police crackdown. Catalan separatists declared independence from Spain unilaterally in Oct. 2017 but received no international recognition.
In response, Rajoy fired the Catalan regional government and ordered a temporary takeover of the region by central authorities.
When shown a video of police beating voters while trying to confiscate ballot boxes in the 2017 vote, Rajoy said that he "lamented" the incidents.
"If those who tried to break the law had instead obeyed it then we would not have seen such events take place," Rajoy said. "I deeply lament those images and others like them (...) but it is the job of politicians to work so that the conditions that produce them are not given."
The 12 Catalan separatists are charged with sedition and other alleged crimes. Their trial is expected to last months.
Rajoy retired from politics after his government lost a no-confidence vote in June following a court ruling into a major corruption case that implicated several members of his Popular Party.