Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Axed Catalan president says in Brussels ‘for safety’

NO ASYLUM:Spain’s chief prosecutor is seeking charges including rebellion — punishable by up to 30 years in prison — and sedition against Carles Puigdemont

AFP, BRUSSELS

A vendor shows a figure of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, known as a caganer (defecator), at a souvenir shop in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Catalonia’s deposed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont yesterday said that he would stay in Brussels after being dismissed by the Spanish government, but denied he would seek asylum to avoid possible rebellion charges.

“I am not here in order to demand asylum,” Puigdemont, sacked by the Spanish government on Friday last week after Catalonia’s parliament declared independence, told a packed news conference in Brussels.

He said he was in Belgium “for safety purposes and freedom,” without detailing how long he would stay.

After being axed, the 54-year-old reportedly drove hundreds of kilometers from Catalonia to Marseille in southern France with several members of his dismissed Cabinet and then flew to Belgium.

His departure is the latest twist in the saga over semi-autonomous Catalonia’s drive for independence that has presented Spain with its biggest political crisis in decades.

On Oct. 1, Catalonia held a referendum organized by Puigdemont’s administration which it said saw a large majority vote in favor of seceding from Spain, although turnout was just 43 percent.

Puigdemont said this gave the Catalan parliament a mandate to declare independence on Friday last week, a decision beamed onto big screens to cheering crowds in regional capital Barcelona, but the same day Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government in Madrid invoked a never-before-used article of the constitution to dismiss Catalonia’s leaders and impose direct rule.

The international community, including the EU, has largely spurned the independence declaration and has united behind Madrid.

On Monday, Spain’s chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges including rebellion — punishable by up to 30 years in prison — and sedition against Puigdemont and fellow leading separatists.

Jose Manuel Maza said they had “caused an institutional crisis that led to the unilateral declaration of independence carried out on Oct. 27 with total contempt for our constitution.”

A court now has to decide whether to bring charges.

Separately, Spain’s Civil Guard yesterday searched the headquarters of Catalonia’s regional police in a probe centered on the independence referendum, a spokesman said.

With its own language and distinct culture, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy. It had a high degree of autonomy over key sectors such as education, healthcare and the police.

Rajoy also called snap elections for Dec. 21 to replace the Catalan parliament in a drastic bid to stop the secessionist drive.

Puigdemont said that he accepted the “challenge” and that he would “respect” the result whatever it is.

“I want a clear commitment from the state. Will the state respect the results that could give separatist forces a majority?” he asked reporters in Brussels.

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