Catalan Saga Takes New Twist as Puigdemont Turns Himself In
(Bloomberg) -- Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont turned himself in voluntarily to Belgian police on Sunday in a fresh twist that brings to 15 the number of political figures who are being detained and could energize the separatist movement.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked constitutional powers last month to reassert his authority over Catalonia and fire Puigdemont and his government. Since then, eight politicians and two activists have been jailed pending trial in Spain, and five others, including Puigdemont, are being held in Belgium, where he’s trying to run a government in exile.
“It had been looking positive for Rajoy as he seemed to be trying to restore order in Catalonia in a restrained way,” said Caroline Gray, a lecturer in politics and Spanish at Aston University in the U.K. who specializes in nationalist movements. “The jailings have made everything more problematic.”
The Belgian judge has until 9:17 a.m. on Monday to make a decision on whether to keep Puigdemont and four ex-officials from his government in custody after their surrender to police in Brussels triggered a 24-hour deadline, according to Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor office. A Spanish judge had issued an arrest warrant for them on Friday.
“In the presence of their lawyers, they have been officially informed about the arrest warrants against them,” Dejemeppe, said during a press conference in the Portalis building, near the center of the capital. “They are currently being detained here.”
Activists in Barcelona were left rudderless and divided when Puigdemont bolted following his ejection from power. Rajoy called elections for Dec. 21. But the spectacle of the jailed leaders has also reinvigorated the movement and thrust the constitutional crisis into the international spotlight.
At its home soccer match Saturday against Seville, FC Barcelona unveiled a giant Catalan flag and banners saying “Justice” to voice its opposition to the jailing of the ousted regional officials.
An opinion poll published on Saturday by La Vanguardia newspaper shows the December election Rajoy called is too close to call, with projections for a near even split of seats for pro-independence and non-separatist parties.
National Court Judge Carmen Lamela, who issued the arrest order, wrote in her ruling that the separatists promoted “violent force” and incited “insurrection.”
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 order, according to the Belgian Justice Ministry. Including time for possible appeals, a final decision must be taken within three months. Puigdemont would then have to be surrendered to Spain within 10 days.
Puigdemont’s decision to turn himself in comes as the pro-independence parties explore their options for fighting the elections in December.
His PDeCAT party put his name forward as its candidate to lead a united platform for the vote, Marta Pascal, its general coordinator, said on Sunday.
However, El Pais newspaper reported that ERC, the biggest separatist party, would only accept a single platform if it also includes the Catalunya en Comu party of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau. Catalunya en Comu said on Sunday it would try to contest the elections in coalition with the Catalan platform of the Podemos party.
Puigdemont remained defiant as he made his preparations to surrender to police in Belgium.
“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 on Friday. 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.”
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