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Catalan leader on conditional release to await extradition decision

15:57 06/11/2017

The deposed president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the four ministers present with him in Brussels turned themselves in on Sunday morning in response to the European warrant issued by Spain for their arrest.

Following 10 hours of questioning, a Brussels judge released the five politicians on bail, with the condition that they not leave Belgium, remain at a fixed address and respond in person to any judicial proceedings.

An arrest warrant was issued last Friday for Puigdemont (pictured) and the ministers for their role in “illegally changing the organisation of the state through a secessionist process that disregards the constitution”. The charges follow the vote for the independence of Catalonia on 1 October. If found guilty of the charges levied against them, they could receive up to 30 years in prison.

The five fled to Belgium two weeks ago after Spain’s attorney general filed the sedition charges against them. In a statement at the time, Puigdemont said that he came “to the capital of Europe to work in freedom and safety. We need your help to show that this is a political issue, not a judicial one”.

Catalan election next month

Although claiming that his trip had nothing to do with Belgium but rather with the capital of the EU, it is a Brussels court that must decide if the five in exile will be extradited to Spain. That decision will be made when Puigdemont and his four former ministers next appear in a Brussels court at 14.00 on Friday 17 November.

If the court makes the decision to hand Puigdemont over to Spain, he could still appeal. The entire process could be drawn out until the December 21 election the Spanish government has called for Catalonia. This would leave Puigdemont free to run in that election.

In the meantime, prime minister Charles Michel said he would speak in parliament on Wednesday about Belgium’s position on the Catalan situation. Several local politicians have made statements about the independence forum and Puigdemont’s presence in Brussels.

Where is Europe?

Flemish minister Geert Bourgeois (N-VA) said last week that the Spanish federal government’s reactions to the independence vote was unacceptable. “They need to stop trying to solve this conflict in the courts,” he told VRT. “That they have resorted to repression – essentially opposing free speech – is a bridge too far. The solution is dialogue. That means no violence, but coming to the table.”

Foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders (MR), meanwhile, said that it was “not our role” to make statements about the situation. “This is about a judicial procedure with which we cannot interfere,” he told Le Soir.

A delegation of 200 Catalan mayors will visit Brussels on Tuesday to support their deposed government and explain their stance on the crisis between Madrid and Barcelona. They will gather at Schuman roundabout at 13.00 in front of the Berlaymont and will then give a conference at Bozar at 17.00.

Written by Lisa Bradshaw