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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 21 October, 2019

European arrest warrant issued for Catalan leader

Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels earlier this week.

Image: Paco Freire

Updated at 7.20pm

A SPANISH JUDGE issued an EU arrest warrant today for Catalonia’s deposed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, a day after he failed to appear for questioning over his role in the region’s tumultuous independence drive.

The announcement added to anger and dismay for a second straight night of demonstrations in the wealthy north-eastern region, with protesters chanting and waving Catalan flags of red and yellow stripes with a white star.

Spanish prosecutors want to charge Puigdemont, holed up in Belgium, with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Yesterday, the 54-year-old ignored a summons to appear before the same judge in Madrid.

An EU arrest warrant was also issued for four other Catalan ministers who failed to show up and are also thought to be in Belgium, a court statement said. They, like Puigdemont, were dismissed by Spain’s central government a week ago.

Yesterday, the judge had Puigdemont’s deputy and seven other deposed regional ministers jailed pending a possible trial because of a risk that they might similarly abscond.

Speaking in an interview on Belgian television channel RTBF today, recorded before the widely expected warrant was issued, Puigdemont said he was not hiding from “real justice” but from a “clearly politicised” Spanish legal system.

“I have told my lawyers to inform the Belgian justice authorities that I am completely at their disposal,” he said.

Belgian prosecutors said they would study the warrant and then give it to a judge.

Rubber bullets

Spain’s worst political crisis in decades flared up over the staging of a Catalan independence referendum on 1 October despite a court ban. Spanish police tried and failed to stop it, in some cases firing rubber bullets.

An independence declaration by the Catalan parliament followed one week ago.

Spain’s government responded by dismissing Puigdemont’s government, imposing direct rule and calling fresh elections in Catalonia on 21 December.

20 people including Puigdemont and the Catalan parliament speaker had been summoned for questioning yesterday.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert, who has helped Basque separatists militants challenge Spanish extradition, said his client did not see the climate as “conducive to testifying”.

Late yesterday, as television footage showed police vans with flashing blue lights driving Puigdemont’s former ministers to different prisons, furious Catalans took to the streets.

About 20,000 people, according to police, demonstrated in the regional capital Barcelona, while others gathered across in towns, and thousands turned out again on Friday evening.

In Barcelona, people thronged outside the Catalan parliament chanting “Freedom for political prisoners”, “Occupying forces leave” and also “This Europe is a disgrace”.

But there was also bemusement.

“It’s brilliant that people are protesting, although it’s a bit late,” demonstrator Melanie Ortiz, 27, told AFP.

© – AFP 2017

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