Spanish court halts transfer of Catalan war papers
21 Jan 2006
MADRID, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A Spanish court has halted the return to Catalonia of documents seized during the 1936-39 civil war after the city of Salamanca, where they had been kept, appealed against the move.
The transfer, tied up with questions of regional pride, comes as negotiations between Spain's ruling Socialists and Catalan parties over a controversial new statute giving greater autonomy to Catalonia reach their climax.
Five judges halted the transfer late on Friday and said they would hear arguments from Salamanca and the government next Tuesday.
The 500 boxes of disputed files from the Civil War archive in Salamanca have only got as far as the Ministry of Culture in Madrid and will have to stay locked up there until the court decides whether they resume their journey to Barcelona or return to Salamanca.
They are mainly official Catalan government documents from the 1930s, though some are private citizens' papers. The Salamanca city council says documents include 176 files that do not belong to the Catalan government.
The transfer has irked conservatives angry at Catalan demands for more independence and suspicious of a Socialist government they think makes too many concessions to the wealthy northeastern region.
Right-wingers see the plan as a threat to Spanish unity and at least two army officers have publicly expressed concern.
The dispute over the papers has gone on for years, with Catalans saying they want their history back and Salamanca -- whose conservative rulers staunchly defend Spanish national unity -- arguing that the national civil war archive should be kept intact.
The transfer had been approved by the minority Socialist government which relies on support from Catalan parties to pass its legislation in the national parliament.
The regional government of Castille and Leon, which includes Salamanca, has also gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of a law approved late last year that mandated the transfer of the papers. The court has not yet ruled.
Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said the government would continue to defend its position in the courts.
Catalans gained a degree of autonomy in the early 1930s, but Franco then disbanded the regional government, the Generalitat, and quashed regional aspirations until his rule ended in 1975.
The documents were removed from Barcelona at the end of the war and taken in 1940 to Salamanca. Franco wanted them as part of an archive to help courts suppress freemasonry and communism.
Barcelona had planned to exhibit the papers from January 25.