Catalan leader Puigdemont surrenders to Belgian police

People protesting against the imprisonment of eight politicians and two activists at University Square in Barcelona yesterday. A judge had earlier ruled that the politicians be imprisoned without bail pending trial. Arrest warrants have been issued f
People protesting against the imprisonment of eight politicians and two activists at University Square in Barcelona yesterday. A judge had earlier ruled that the politicians be imprisoned without bail pending trial. Arrest warrants have been issued for five others, including ousted leader Carles Puigdemont.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID/BRUSSELS • Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who faced an international arrest warrant for his role in a declaration of independence, has turned himself in voluntarily to Belgian police.

Mr Puigdemont and four former ministers of the Catalan regional government surrendered at 9.17am yesterday in Brussels. The investigative judge now has exactly 24 hours to decide whether to keep them in detention or conditionally release them, Mr Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor office, told reporters.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked constitutional powers last month to reassert his authority over Catalonia and fire Mr Puigdemont and his government. Since then, eight politicians and two activists have been jailed pending trial, and arrest warrants have been issued for five others, including Mr Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to try to run a government in exile.

Activists in Barcelona were left rudderless and divided when Mr Puigdemont bolted following his ejection from power. Mr Rajoy called elections for Dec 21.

But the spectacle of the jailed leaders has reinvigorated the movement and thrust the constitutional crisis into the international spotlight. An opinion poll published last Saturday by La Vanguardia newspaper shows the December election is too close to call.

Mr Puigdemont said last Saturday that he will cooperate with the Belgian authorities on the arrest order. 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.

Including time for possible appeals, a final decision must be taken within three months. Mr Puigdemont would then have to be surrendered to Spain within 10 days.

"I won't flee justice; I'm willing to submit to justice, but to real justice," the ousted leader said in an interview with Belgium's RTBF television last Friday.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Catalan leader Puigdemont surrenders to Belgian police'. Print Edition | Subscribe