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Sacked Catalonia leader surrenders to police

Reuters / Khmer Times Share:
Dismissed Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont arrives at The Press Club in Brussels last week. AFP

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A Belgian judge was to decide by today on Spain’s arrest warrant for sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his associates after they turned themselves in to Belgian police, a spokesman for Brussels prosecutors said yesterday.

On Friday, Spain handed over to Belgian prosecutors the warrant for rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to Catalonia’s independence campaign for Mr Puigdemont and four of his associates.

“This morning the five people wanted by Spain presented themselves to police in Brussels. They were put in custody at 9.17 this morning,” prosecutor spokesman Gilles Dejemeppe told a news conference.

“The judge will hear the people this afternoon. He has until tomorrow morning to decide,” he said, without naming the people.

If the judge decides to issue an arrest warrant on the basis of the Spanish request, the case then goes to a court which must decide within 15 days whether to execute the order.

Mr Puigdemont can appeal at various stages of the proceedings, a process which can take many weeks.

Mr Puigdemont’s move to turn himself in comes as two polls suggested pro-Catalonia independence parties will together take the most seats in next month’s regional election although they may fall just short of a majority needed to revive the secession campaign.

Parties supporting Catalonia remaining part of Spain would divide seats but garner around 54 percent of the vote, the polls suggested.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the December 21 election after firing the previous government and imposing direct rule over the autonomous region following a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalan lawmakers on October 27.

According to a GAD3 survey of 1,233 people conducted between October 30 and November 3 and published in La Vanguardia newspaper, pro-independence parties ERC, PDECat and CUP would take between 66 and 69 seats in the 135-seat parliament.

A second poll taken over the same period for the conservative newspaper La Razon echoed the GAD3 survey, showing pro-
independence parties would capture the most votes though still fall just shy of a parliamentary majority with 65 seats.

Other seats would be generally divided between parties supporting the region continuing to be part of Spain, but they parties are not allied.

Voter participation, however, will rise to a record of 83 percent, the GAD3 poll showed.

Catalonia’s statehood push has tipped Spain into its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago as surging pro-secession sentiment in the region has in turn kindled nationalism across the country.

Mr Puigdemont travelled to Belgium shortly after Madrid took control and now faces charges for rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to the secessionist campaign.

On Saturday, Mr Puigdemont – who PDECat said yesterday would lead the party in the election – called for a united Catalan political front in the face of the elections.

On Thursday, nine members of his sacked cabinet were ordered by Spain’s High Court to be held on remand pending an investigation and potential trial.

One member of the dismissed cabinet, Santi Vila, was freed after paying bail of €50,000 ($58,035) on Friday. The other
eight could remain in custody for up to four years.

According to the GAP3 survey, 59 percent believed legal action against Mr Puigdemont was unjustified while 69.3 percent said that the jailing of the Catalan politicians would give the independence cause a boost at the ballot box.

Catalan civic groups Asamblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural – whose leaders were imprisoned last month on sedition charges – called for a general strike on Wednesday and a mass demonstration on Saturday to protest the detentions.

A rally in Barcelona yesterday, however, attracted just a few hundred people, a long way from the hundreds of thousands to join pro-independence marches in October, many waving the regional flag and carrying protest signs.

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