Germany detains ex-Catalan president

A protest in Bilbao, Spain, in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians yesterday. German police said they arrested Carles Puigdemont (below) on a European warrant issued by Spain.
A protest in Bilbao, Spain, in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A protest in Bilbao, Spain, in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians yesterday. German police said they arrested Carles Puigdemont (below) on a European warrant issued by Spain.
German police said they arrested Carles Puigdemont on a European warrant issued by Spain.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA/BERLIN • Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was detained yesterday in Germany, four months after he went into self-imposed exile from Spain, where he faces up to 25 years in prison for organising an illegal referendum on secession last year.

Puigdemont had entered Germany from Denmark after leaving Finland last Friday when it appeared police would arrest him there and begin an extradition process requested by Spain.

The detention threatens to worsen the Catalan crisis, which flared last year when the region made a symbolic declaration of independence.

The Spanish authorities have since imposed direct rule over the region, suspending the wealthy state's autonomy.

German police said they had arrested Puigdemont in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

Police said Puigdemont was detained near a section of the A7 highway which cuts through the state from the city of Flensburg near the Danish border.

Police did not say exactly where Puigdemont was being held but the Spanish press said he was at a police station in the nearby town of Schuby.

German magazine Focus said Spanish intelligence informed Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office that Puigdemont was on his way from Finland to Germany. It gave no source for its report.

It is not clear if Puigdemont will be immediately extradited from Germany. He had made clear his preference to fight the extradition process from Belgium.

The former Catalan regional president was at the time of his detention heading to Belgium, according to Puigdemont's spokesman Joan Maria Pique.

"The president was going to Belgium to put himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice," Mr Pique told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's decision last 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 fate as he was jailed. If a new leader is not elected by May 22, fresh elections will be triggered.

Last Saturday, the speaker of the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona called for an alliance against Madrid, describing the spate of legal actions as an "attack on the heart of democracy".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Germany detains ex-Catalan president'. Print Edition | Subscribe