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Thousands protest in Barcelona after ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont arrested

Carles Puigdemont will appear before a German court tomorrow.

SPAIN-POLITICS-CATALONIA-DEMO Source: AFP/Getty Images

THOUSANDS HAVE TAKEN part in a demonstration in Barcelona after German police arrested Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont as he crossed over by car from Denmark.

Puigdemont “was arrested today at 11.19am by the Autobahn police force of Schleswig-Holstein,” a German police spokesman told AFP, adding that the detention was based on a European warrant.

“He is now in police custody”, added the spokesman.

Puigdemont will appear before a judge tomorrow, German court officials said.

“The sole purpose of this appearance is to verify the identity of the person arrested,” the court said.

“The regional tribunal of Schleswig-Holstein in the town of Schleswig will then have to decide if Mr Puigdemont has to be taken into custody” in view of handing him over to Spain, it added.

SPAIN-POLITICS-CATALONIA-DEMO A protester holds a poster of Catalonia's deposed leader Carles Puigdemont reading Our president. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Protesters chanted “Puigdemont our president” and “Freedom for the political prisoners”, as they made their way from the city’s main boulevard, Las Ramblas, to the offices of the European Commission in the Catalan capital.

“This Europe is shameful!” they chanted outside of the European Commission offices.

“What they are doing these days is totally disproportionate, we are being treated like criminals for wanting independence,” Rosa Vela, a 60-year-old teacher, told AFP at the demonstration.

SPAIN-POLITICS-CATALONIA-DEMO Egg stains, tomatoes and cans cover the ground as riot police block the road leading to the central government offices. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Spanish courts

Puigdemont’s arrest came just two days after Spain’s supreme court it would prosecute for “rebellion” 13 Catalan separatists, including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull, over their role in the region’s failed breakaway bid.

If found guilty, they face up to 30 years in prison.

Issuing an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the ousted Catalan leader of organising the independence referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid and “grave risk of violent incidents”.

Puigdemont and four other deputies had fled to Belgium following their proclamation of independence for Catalonia in October, which sank the state into a crisis.

SPAIN-POLITICS-CATALONIA-DEMO A protester films footage as fellow protesters shout slogans opposite riot police. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Spanish authorities have since imposed direct rule over the region, suspending the wealthy state’s autonomy over the last five months.

While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections in December called by Madrid, they have been unable to form a government for the region as numerous leaders are in exile abroad or in jail.

Puigdemont himself had said from Belgium in early March that he was abandoning his bid to return as regional president, even though he had run in December’s polls from abroad.

On the way to Belgium

Catalan President Roger Torrent Meets Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont Puigdemont speaks to journalists following a meeting at the offices of the European Free Alliance in Brussels in January. Source: Bloomberg via Getty Images

He had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him.

Separately confirming his arrest in Germany, Puigdemont’s party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa said: “It happened as he crossed the Danish-German border. He was treated well and all his lawyers are there. That is all I can say.”

Puigdemont’s lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said on Twitter that Puigdemont was picked up by German police as he was travelling back to Belgium.

He “was heading to Belgium to present himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian courts”, added Alonso-Cuevillas.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s decision this week to prosecute the group of separatists has sunk the Catalan parliament deeper into a quagmire as its latest regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull was placed in custody over the breakaway bid.

That marks the third time that parliament has been unable to nominate a new president.

After Puigdemont was forced to withdraw his bid for the presidency, another pro-independence leader Jordi Sanchez faced the same fact as he was jailed.

If a new leader is not elected by 22 May, fresh elections will be triggered.

© – AFP, 2018First posted at 12.30pm, updated at 5.30pm.

Read: Finland wants to arrest exiled Catalan leader – but it doesn’t know where he is

Read: Carles Puigdemont, the face of Catalan independence push, abandons leadership bid

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