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Catalan leader travels to Brussels, could seek asylum

20:33 30/10/2017

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont and five of his advisors have reportedly arrived in Brussels and could seek political asylum in Belgium, after Spain's attorney general filed rebellion and sedition charges following the region's independence referendum.

Several media report that Puigdemont is staying temporarily in "a discreet and safe" place in the Belgian capital, citing several sources including a Spanish government official. He is expected to make a speech on Tuesday, according to Catalan public television broadcaster TV3.

The visit was reportedly organised by Catalonia's delegate in Brussels, Amadeu Altafaj. Flemish broadcaster VRT says Puigdemont "will meet lawyers and political representatives".

It comes after Belgian federal immigration minister Theo Francken, from the Flemish nationalist party N-VA, said on Sunday that Puigdemont could be offered asylum in Belgium. "No request has yet been filed but things are moving fast," Francken told Le Soir. "We'll see what happens in the next hours and days."

Francken also suggested that it was unlikely that the Catalan leader could receive a fair trial in Spain. Spain's ruling People's Party described such a claim about a fellow EU member state as "unacceptable".

A Belgian federal government source told RTBF that Puigdemont and his team were en route to Belgium for a private reception organised by the N-VA, a claim denied by a spokesman for the Flemish political party.

Green and Socialist members of parliament have asked the house's president to summon prime minister Charles Michel to explain his government's position on the Catalan independence movement and Puigdemont's visit.