Catalan leader facing possible international arrest

Catalonia’s ousted leader will fight extradition from Belgium if a Spanish judge issues an international arrest warrant for him Friday, his lawyer said.

Carles Puigdemont, who was deposed by Madrid last week for his illegal bid to break his region away from Spain, failed to appear in Spain’s National Court Thursday to answer questions over a related rebellion case.

In response, Spanish prosecutors requested that a judge issue an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, and four other members of his former Cabinet who are with him in Belgium. Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert said he would fight any attempts to extradite him.

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The former president flew to Brussels on Monday, saying he could act with “freedom and safety” there. Flemish separatists who seek to secede from Belgium have been longstanding allies of the Catalan independence movement.

On Thursday, eight former ministers from the sacked Catalan regional government – including former vice president Oriol Junqueras – were held on remand by a Spanish judge, on the basis they could be a flight risk. Another was held on 50,000 euros ($58,400) bail.

The former ministers, like Puigdemont, are being investigated on possible charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.

The judge’s decision to detain the former ministers was swiftly condemned across Catalonia, and prompted another night of demonstrations on the streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said that Catalans were united in opposition to the judge’s actions.

“A government democratically elected at the ballot box is in jail,” she said. “There is a common front to achieve the freedom of the political prisoners.”

Puigdemont also slammed the detention of the former ministers, calling it a “very serious attack on democracy” and demanding their release in a televised address Thursday night.

“The fury with which the Spanish government has attacked a beautiful European nation is outrageous and is threatening us all,” he said, calling on Catalans to protest peacefully against Madrid’s actions.