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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.

Mas headed the "Together for Yes" pro-independence alliance that won 62 seats last month in Catalonia's 135-member parliament, falling short of a majority.

His alliance is negotiating with the radical pro-secession CUP party, which won 10 seats, to try to form a coalition majority. Mas has promised to set Catalonia on a path toward independence by 2017 if he gets the majority.

Although the pro-independence camp won 72 seats, it got only 48 percent of the popular vote. This is because Spain's electoral system gives more seats to votes from rural areas, where secession sentiment is strong in Catalonia.

Spain has ruled out any possibility of Catalonia becoming independent.

Polls show Catalans overwhelmingly support the right for a secession referendum but are evenly divided over independence.

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