Sat, Nov 04, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Spanish judge to issue warrant for Puigdemont

‘FAILED STATE’:Following the arrests of several former ministers, Catalans took to the streets, with protesters briefly blocking a number of roads and even a rail line

AFP, MADRID

People hold placards that read: “Liberty for political prisoners” at a protest in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

A judge in Madrid was yesterday set to issue an EU arrest warrant for Catalonia’s deposed leader over his region’s tumultuous independence drive, in a move likely to take tensions to a new level in Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The warrant for Generalitat of Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont, who is holed up in Belgium, was expected a day after a Spanish judge threw a large chunk of Puigdemont’s axed regional government behind bars over their role in Catalonia’s push for secession.

Puigdemont, 54, who was last week dismissed as Catalan president by Spain’s government, failed to appear in court on Thursday to be grilled by the judge over alleged sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, accusations Puigdemont has said are politically motivated.

Judge Carmen Lamela — who on Thursday had Puigdemont’s deputy, Oriol Junqueras, and seven other deposed regional ministers detained pending a potential trial — is to issue the warrant “during the day Friday,” a judicial source in Madrid said.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert, who in the past has helped Basque separatist militants challenge Spanish extradition requests, on Thursday told Flemish TV channel VRT that his client would appeal the move.

A dark-suited Puigdemont on Thursday said on Catalan TV from an undisclosed location that the situation “is no longer an internal Spanish affair” and called on the international community to wake up to the “danger.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who wants independence from Britain, yesterday said that the crisis “should be resolved democratically — not by the jailing of political opponents.”

However, otherwise Puigdemont’s appeal for foreign sympathy is likely to fall on deaf ears, with the international community so far overwhelmingly backing the central Spanish government.

Late on Thursday as TV footage showed images of police vans with flashing blue lights taking Puigdemont’s former ministers to different prisons, Catalans took to the streets in anger and disbelief.

Protesters yesterday briefly blocked several roads in Catalonia, as well as a train line, authorities said.

Fresh demonstrations were expected later.

About 20,000 people on Thursday demonstrated in the regional capital, Barcelona, police said.

Others gathered across the region, including 8,000 people in both Girona and Tarragona.

They held up mobile phones like candles, waved separatist flags — red and yellow stripes with a white star — and chanted “Free political prisoners” and “This isn’t justice, but dictatorship.”

“There are political prisoners. This exacerbates things, but this will also open the eyes of lots of people in Europe, as well as in Catalonia,” 63-year-old retiree Josep Manel Boix told reporters.

Marta Rovira, a lawyer and Catalan separatist lawmaker, briefly broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters in Madrid after the announcement of the detentions.

“The Spanish state is a failed state, a state that has failed democratically,” she said. “I’m convinced we won’t surrender, we won’t, we will fight until the end.”

“We are one step from the abyss,” Catalan daily La Vanguardia said in an editorial. “The campaign [for an election next month] now faces the serious risk of catching fire.”

A total of 20 people, including Puigdemont, Junqueras and the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament, had been summoned for questioning on Thursday.

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