Ousted Catalan leader urges united front in independence push

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is interviewed on Belgian RTBF television in Brussels, Belgium on Nov 3, 2017.
Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is interviewed on Belgian RTBF television in Brussels, Belgium on Nov 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont yesterday called for a united political front in the Dec 21 election to continue the drive for independence from Spain and to protest against the imprisonment of former members of the regional government.

His defiant stance came a day after a judge in Spain issued an EU- wide arrest warrant for the separatist leader who fled to Belgium after his government was fired following a unilateral declaration of independence. 

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

Under European arrest warrant procedures, individuals are detained and brought before judges within 24 hours. A court then has 15 days to decide whether to execute the arrest order, according to the Belgian Justice Ministry. A final decision must be taken within three months and Mr Puigdemont would then have to be surrendered to Spain within 10 days.

On Thursday, nine members of Mr Puigdemont’s sacked Cabinet were ordered by Spain’s High Court to be held on remand pending an investigation and potential trial. 

The next day, Spain issued an arrest warrant for Mr Puigdemont and four associates to answer charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to their secessionist campaign.

Minutes after the Spanish warrant was made public, a taped interview with Mr Puigdemont was aired on Belgium’s RTBF television. He reiterated that he would submit to justice as long as it was not the Spanish kind. 

“I won’t flee justice; I’m willing to submit to justice, but to real justice,” the ousted leader said in the interview. He said the Spanish courts “can’t guarantee a fair and independent sentence that will be free of the enormous weight and influence of politics”. 

Mr Puigdemont also said he had instructed his lawyers to cooperate with the Belgian authorities and gave no indication he is going to return to Spain or about his future plans. He also said he was considering standing in the Dec 21 election from Brussels.

In Spain’s gravest political crisis since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the snap election after taking control of Catalonia a week ago. 

Political parties in the wealthy north-eastern region that wish to run on a common platform have until Tuesday to register any potential coalition. 

“It is time for all democrats to join together. For Catalonia, for the freedom of political prisoners and for the republic,” Mr Puigdemont said in a tweet that included the hashtag #llistaunitaria.cat, a website calling for parties to unite against the Spanish government at the ballot box.