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Former Catalan leader sent defiant message to Spanish authorities as he walked out of prison

A smiling Puigdemont emerged into the sunshine from the prison in Neumuenster where he has been held for nearly two weeks.

Image: Axel Heimken

FORMER CATALAN LEADER Carles Puigdemont walked out of a German prison today after posting €75,000 bail, demanding that Spanish authorities release fellow Catalan separatists and open a dialogue on his region’s future.

Puigdemont was detained by German police on 25 March after crossing the border from Denmark. Spain is seeking his extradition for rebellion and misuse of public funds in organising an unauthorised referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

The state court in Schleswig said that the charge of rebellion wouldn’t warrant extradition because the equivalent German law presumes the use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities. Puigdemont can still be extradited on misuse of funds charges.

A smiling Puigdemont emerged into the sunshine from the prison in Neumuenster where he has been held for nearly two weeks, thanking staff “for their professionality and for their respect” and the inmates for “their solidarity and help for me to adapt quickly to the situation.”

He also sent a defiant message to Spanish authorities.

“I call for the immediate release for all of my colleagues still in Spanish prisons,” he said, speaking in English. “It’s a shame for Europe to still have political prisoners”.

“The time for dialogue has arrived,” he declared, arguing that years of Catalan demands for dialogue have met with only a “violent and repressive response”.

“Now, seeing the fall of that response, it’s time to do politics,” Puigdemont added. He said there are no excuses for the Spanish authorities to avoid “a political dialogue with the Catalan political leaders in order to find a political solution of our demands, not by criminal law”.

Puigdemont - Neumuenster Source: DPA/PA Images

Charged with rebellion

Puigdemont can move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition, though he must report to police once a week and inform prosecutors of any change in residence. He can’t leave Germany without prosecutors’ agreement.

Under European rules, a decision on extradition should happen within 60 days of arrest.

The German court’s decision to release Puigdemont on bail is a setback for the Spanish judiciary’s efforts to crack down on the separatist movement.

It is also an embarrassing blow for Spain’s conservative government, which has insisted the dispute over Catalan separatism is a legal issue, not a political one, and has refused to be drawn into negotiations with Puigdemont and his supporters since October’s banned referendum.

Puigdemont - Neumuenster The estelada, the flag of Catalan nationalists, attached to the wall of the correctional facility where Puigdemont was detained Source: DPA/PA Images

In Madrid, the Spanish government denied that it is hounding Puigdemont. Government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said he “is not a victim of political persecution, he’s a fugitive from justice”.

Mendez de Vigo told a regular weekly news conference that the government respects Spanish and German court decisions and doesn’t interfere in their rulings.

He says the Spanish government “met its obligations” by imposing direct rule on Catalonia after Puigdemont and other separatists organised the independence referendum last year.

Spain’s Supreme Court has charged 14 Catalan separatists, including Puigdemont, with rebellion, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years.

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Associated Press

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