Ousted Catalan leader will continue independence fight from Belgium

The former president is facing criminal charges of rebellion and sedition sought by Spain’s chief prosecutor.  
October 31, 2017, 7:24am

Updated: 10:15 am ET

Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont says he will carry on his fight for Catalan independence from the “safety” of Belgium until he is given reassurances about his legal status in Spain.

The former regional president is facing criminal charges of rebellion and sedition sought by Spain’s chief prosecutor.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels Tuesday, Puigdemont said he was not in Belgium to claim political asylum, but because he could act with “freedom and safety” there.

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Puigdemont traveled to Belgium Monday, the same day Spain’s chief prosecutor called for criminal charges including rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds to be laid against him and other pro-independence Catalan leaders. The charges, which have yet to be approved by a judge, carry a maximum 30-year sentence.

“I am not here to demand political asylum. I’m here in Brussels as the capital of Europe,” Puigdemont said. He said he would return to Catalonia once he was guaranteed “fair and independent treatment.”

Puigdemont was removed from office by Madrid Friday for spearheading an illegal push for independence.

He said his party would participate in new Catalan elections called by Madrid for Dec. 21 after it dismissed Catalonia’s regional government Friday. He called on the Spanish government to respect the outcome if pro-independence parties won a majority.

Madrid announced Friday it was suspending Catalonia’s autonomy – dissolving its parliament, sacking 140 senior officials and calling new elections for Dec. 21. – after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence.

Puigdemont and other senior Catalan officials say they do not accept the imposition of direct rule. Pro-independence groups have called for a campaign of civil disobedience by public sector employees to resist the takeover.

But as Catalan workers returned to their offices Monday, there was no sign of widespread disruption.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for independence in Catalonia is flagging. One poll placed support for independence among Catalans at 33.5 percent, and another at 29 percent.

Catalan authorities say that the overwhelming majority of voters in the Oct. 1 referendum supported independence, but only about 43 percent of eligible voters took part, with most opponents of secession boycotting the banned ballot.