(Bloomberg) -- Protests broke out in Catalonia after police detained former regional President Carles Puigdemont as he crossed into Germany from Denmark by car, bringing nearer his eventual return to Spain to face trial on rebellion charges.
Puigdemont was attempting to return to Belgium after a visit to Finland when he was apprehended, his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas said by phone Sunday. Demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona in protest, with some clashing with police as they tried to break through cordons to reach Spanish government offices. At least 50 people received medical attention, all for minor injuries, regional government health services said in a tweet.
A Spanish Supreme Court judge had reactivated an arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October after his attempt to declare independence from Spain led Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to sack the Catalan government. Puigdemont and many of his inner circle from the separatist leadership face charges for holding an illegal referendum and seeking to split from Spain.
“The state is attacking the heart of democracy making a general cause against its political adversaries,” Roger Torrent, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, said in a televised statement. He called for a common front to help preserve Catalan democracy rights and liberties.
Albert Rivera, the head of Ciudadanos, a pro-Spain party which won the most votes in Catalan elections in December, welcomed Puigdemont’s detention. “The flight of the coup-monger Puigdemont is over,” he said in a verified tweet. “Justice is doing its work.”
German police acting on a European arrest warrant stopped Puigdemont on the A7 highway at 11:19 a.m., and he’s currently in custody, Uwe Keller, a Schleswig-Holstein police spokesman, said by phone.
The Catalan politician will face an initial court hearing Monday, with any extradition proceedings taking place later, Ralph Doepper, head prosecutor in Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, said in an email. The hearing is a procedural session to establish the detainee’s identity, with a court to determine later whether Puigdemont may be handed over to Spain, Doepper said.
“The ball is now in the court of the German judicial authorities,” Argelia Queralt, a professor of constitutional law at Barcelona University, said by phone. “I don’t think the Germans will stand for any nonsense and will seek to apply the rules.”
City police estimated the number of demonstrators that gathered following the detention at 55,000, with as many as 1,000 gathered outside Spanish government offices, El Periodico newspaper reported. The pro-secession group Catalan National Assembly tweeted images of peaceful demonstrators heading for Barcelona’s German consulate.
The prospect of Puigdemont’s eventual return to face Spanish justice will do nothing to heal the divisions opened up in Catalan society by the independence campaign, Queralt said. Puigdemont had been living freely in Belgium and making trips around Europe to press the case for Catalan independence by styling himself as the region’s authentic leader.
“The wounds are now deeper because of the tough legal response,” she said. “They will now take longer to heal.”
Rajoy used emergency powers under the Spanish constitution to eject Puigdemont and his government from office in October. Elections held in Catalonia in December produced a slim majority for the separatist bloc, but Puigdemont couldn’t return to try to form a government because he faced arrest if he set foot back in Spain.
“Spain does not guarantee a fair trial, only revenge and repression,” Elsa Artadi, the spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya group, said in a message retweeted by the pro-secession coalition.
Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena stepped up the pressure on Friday when he declared that 13 separatist leaders including Puigdemont would be prosecuted on charges of rebellion. In December, the judge had withdrawn European warrants for Puigdemont and others in his circle who had quit Spain.
A lawyer for another Catalonian politician who had fled Spain, Clara Ponsati, has been in contact with police in Scotland about turning herself in, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
Germany can’t extradite Puigdemont on the grounds of “rebellion” because that offense doesn’t exist under the country’s law, Wolfgang Kubicki, a federal member of parliament with the Free Democratic Party, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. It’s nevertheless possible that authorities will extradite him for other reasons, based on the European arrest warrant and Spain’s well-regarded democratic constitution, said Kubicki, who has also been a defense lawyer in criminal cases.
Under the European arrest warrant procedure, the country where the person is arrested must make a final decision on extradition within 60 days, according to the European e-Justice Portal.
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