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Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to appear in court after Italy arrest

·3-min read

European MEP and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont – in exile in Belgium since 2017 after an attempt by the region to gain independence through a referendum that Spain ruled was unconstitutional – was arrested in Italy on Thursday, his lawyer said.

The European MEP – who has been based in Belgium since the 2017 referendum – was detained in the Sardinian town of Alghero on Thursday, his chief of staff Josep Lluis Alay wrote on Twitter.

On Friday "he'll appear before the judges of the court of appeal of Sassari, who will decide whether to let him go or extradite him" to Spain, where he faces charges of sedition, he said.

Puigdemont's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, tweeted that he was arrested as he arrived in Italy for a cultural festival he was attending in his capacity as an MEP. The town of Alghero has strong Catalan links.

Boye said the arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued in October 2019 that had since been suspended.

Puigdemont, 58, is wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition over his attempts to have Catalonia break away from Madrid through the 2017 referendum.

Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reacted to Puigdemont’s arrest by telling a news conference that the exiled Catalan leader “must be brought to justice and stand trial” over the referendum four years ago.

His arrest comes a week after the left-leaning Spanish government and regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

In March, the European Parliament rescinded immunity for Puigdemont and two other pro-independence MEPs, a decision that was upheld in July by the EU's General Court.

However, the European Parliament's decision is under appeal and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.

Following Thursday's arrest, Madrid expressed "its respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts".

"The arrest of Mr Puigdemont corresponds to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any EU citizen who has to answer to the courts," the Spanish government said in a statement.

It added Puigdemont should "submit to the action of justice like any other citizen".

Fabio Bruno, Spain's honorary consul in Sardinia, told the Italian Ansa news agency that Puigdemont had nominated a lawyer in Sassari and he was monitoring the case.

'Persecution'

New Catalan president Pere Aragones – a separatist but more moderate than his predecessor – condemned what he called the "persecution" of Puigdemont.

"In the face of persecution and judicial repression, the strongest condemnation. It has to stop," he wrote on Twitter.

He added that "self-determination" was the "only solution".

Quim Torra, who took over the presidency in 2018 following the referendum, described Puigdemont's possible extradition to Spain as "catastrophic" and called on pro-independence activists to be "on high alert".

Meanwhile, supporters starting sharing hashtags such as #FreePuigdemont, as the Catalan National Assembly urged people to protest Friday against his "illegal detention" outside Barcelona's Italian consulate.

Besides Puigdemont, former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati are also wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition.

The October 2017 referendum was held by Catalonia's separatist regional leadership despite a ban by Madrid and the process was marred by police violence.

A few weeks later, the leadership made a short-lived declaration of independence, prompting Puigdemont to flee abroad.

Others who stayed in Spain were arrested and tried.

However, Puigdemont did not benefit from the pardon granted in June to nine pro-independence activists who had been imprisoned in Spain.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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