Spain's Plans Buffeted as Arrest Order Issued for Puigdemont

(Bloomberg) -- A Spanish court issued an international arrest warrant for self-exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four others, ramping up pressure on the separatist campaign and buffeting Madrid’s plans to dampen support for the movement.

National Court Judge Carmen Lamela wrote in her ruling that the separatists promoted “violent force” and incited “insurrection.” Minutes after her order was made public, a taped interview with Puigdemont was aired on Belgium’s RTBF television. He sounded a defiant tone and said he would submit to justice as long as it isn’t the Spanish kind.

Spain's Plans Buffeted as Arrest Order Issued for Puigdemont

“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.”

Puigdemont said he instructed his lawyers to cooperate with Belgian authorities and gave no indication he is going to return to Spain or about his future plans. Calls to Puigdemont’s lawyer for comment weren’t answered.

“You mustn’t forget that we’re the legitimate government,” Puigdemont said. 

The National Court in Madrid also ruled on Friday that two leading activists should remain in prison while they are being investigated on potential charges of sedition after eight former members of the Catalan government were jailed the previous day.

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 with three months and Puigdemont, in this case, would then have to be surrendered to Spain within 10 days.

Supporting Resistance

Puigdemont has said that his decision to go to Brussels was in part to avert a possible violent confrontation.

“There were many people who were ready to mount a resistance,” he said. In a message posted on his Twitter account Saturday morning, he urged separatists to back a single platform for next month’s elections “for Catalonia, for the freedom of the political prisoners and the Republic.”

The judicial crackdown may be undermining Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s attempts to weaken the independence campaign after he seized direct control of the regional administration last week.

“The attitude of the government has always been to respect and enforce judicial decisions,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the government’s chief spokesman, said during a televised briefing in Madrid. “Sometimes you agree with them, and other times you don’t.”

Activists in Barcelona were left angry, leaderless and divided when Puigdemont bolted following the intervention, and Rajoy was looking to capitalize on the disarray in regional elections next month.

But the campaign now has been reinvigorated by seeing the politicians jailed, and plans have been revived for a joint election list to maximize their representation in the regional parliament.

Spain's Plans Buffeted as Arrest Order Issued for Puigdemont

Thousands of people filled Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on Friday night to voice support for the ousted government officials and other pro-independence leaders who have been jailed.

With Catalonian regional elections called for a few days before Christmas, a poll published Thursday by the El Espanol news website suggested that pro-independence candidates are set to win 68 seats, the minimum for a majority in the 135-seat assembly.

Puigdemont said he is willing to take part in the Dec. 21 election and could potentially campaign from outside the country. Even so, he said, “so far it seems that you can win an election, try to implement your program but still end up being sent to jail for 30 years.”

While the European Union and governments around the world have refused to respond to separatist appeals, the latest move by the courts is focusing international attention on Spain’s efforts to shut down the movement.

“The disagreement about Catalonia’s future is political,” Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and head of the semi-autonomous government, said on Twitter. “It should be resolved democratically -- not by the jailing of political opponents.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.