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Spanish soccer chief's mother locks herself in church on hunger strike

The mother of suspended Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales locked herself inside a church and started a hunger strike to protest against her son's treatment over his kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after the world cup victory, family members said.

"She has gone on hunger strike, she does not want to leave the church," Vanessa Ruiz, a cousin of Rubiales, told reporters outside the parish church of Divina Pastora in the family's home town of Motril, southern Spain.

Rubiales' mother Angeles Bejar was holed up inside with her sister. Ruiz described Bejar as a "woman of great faith who has sought refuge in God", and said the family wanted Hermoso to "tell the truth" that the kiss was not forced.

Rubiales, who is head of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), was suspended on Saturday by FIFA amid a furore after he kissed Hermoso on the mouth during the awards ceremony following Spain's World Cup win in Sydney on Aug. 20. Hermoso says she did not want to be kissed.

RFEF has called regional federations to an urgent meeting on Monday to evaluate the situation, which has spiralled into a national argument over women's rights and macho behaviour.

Spain's High Court prosecutor said on Monday afternoon it had launched a preliminary investigation into what happened and would contact Hermoso to ask if she wants to press charges. 

A spokesman for the court told Reuters it had received several complaints but would only launch a full inquiry if Hermoso sought one. 

Rubiales, 46, has been defiant over the kiss, arguing it was consensual. Hermoso, her teammates and the Spanish government say it was unwanted and demeaning.

At a federation meeting on Friday where he had been widely expected to step down, Rubiales instead refused to quit, seeking to defend his behaviour and calling the kiss "spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual".

RFEF has said Rubiales will defend himself legally to prove "his complete innocence".

Spain's Acting Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz met on Monday with representatives of the women's players' union FUTPRO, which represents Hermoso, and the Association of Spanish Footballers, to ensure football "has decent conditions and spaces free of sexist violence".

She told journalists afterwards that macho behaviour was "systemic" in Spain and had been shown in its worst form by the incident.

Diaz, who is also deputy prime minister in the acting socialist government pending the formation of a new government following July elections, also condemned RFEF members who applauded Rubiales' non-resignation on Friday. Diaz called for victims of sexual harassment and violence to be better protected. 

"On Friday we saw the worst of Spanish society, of the structural machismo of this country," she said. "They clapped and humiliated and made fun of a person they had the obligation to protect under the sports law and far from doing that, they inflicted more damage, more pain, more vexation.

"In my personal opinion, the coaches who applauded Mr Rubiales are not qualified to continue in their posts."


Rubiales' mother Bejar told Spain's EFE news agency her hunger strike would last "until a solution is found to the inhumane and bloody hunt they are carrying out against my son with something he does not deserve".

Rubiales' cousin Ruiz said his family was "suffering a lot for him, we don't think that what's happening is fair."

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"He has been judged ahead of time. We don't think this is normal and we want them to leave us alone. The statements speak for themselves. There are videos, there are audios," she said.

Hermoso has said she did not consent to the kiss and felt "vulnerable and the victim of an aggression".

Gender issues are a prominent topic in Spain. Tens of thousands of women have taken part in street marches protesting against sexual abuse and violence, and the Socialist-led coalition government has reformed laws including around equal pay and abortion rights.

Feminist groups have called a demonstration on Monday in Madrid entitled "With You Jenni". Hundreds of people participated in another on Sunday in Salamanca against Rubiales.

All 23 players on Spain's cup-winning squad including Hermoso, as well as dozens of other squad members, said on Friday they would not play internationals while Rubiales remained head of the federation. Their next match is away to Sweden in the Nations League on Sept. 22.

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