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Spain

Fugitive ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont detained in Germany after avoiding arrest in Finland

He slipped out of Finland on Saturday and is wanted by Spain on charges of ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 9:43am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 9:29pm

German police have detained fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on a European arrest warrant after he slipped out of Finland just days earlier.

Police in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said highway police arrested Puigdemont on Sunday morning near the A7 highway that leads from Denmark into Germany.

They said “Mr Puigdemont is currently in police custody” and refused to give further details.

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, confirmed that German police stopped the former leader when he was crossing the border. He said Puigdemont is at a police station.

Alonso-Cuevillas said Puigdemont was on his way back to Belgium where he has been staying since fleeing Spain following a failed bid by his regional government in October to declare independence from Spain.

The arrest came after a Spanish Supreme Court judge charged 13 Catalan separatist politicians with rebellion on Friday for their attempts to make the region independent of Spain, dealing another heavy blow to the secessionist movement. The judge also ordered international arrest warrants for the six Catalan officials who are fugitives, including the reactivation of Puigdemont’s.

Former Catalan president said he should have declared independence from Spain earlier

Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, had been visiting Finland since Thursday for talks with lawmakers.

Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) confirmed on Saturday it had received a European arrest warrant for “a Spanish citizen visiting Finland”, but did not know the person’s whereabouts.

“We’ve had no contact with the person himself or his assistants,” NBI criminal inspector Hannu Kautta said on Saturday.

Then, Finnish MP Mikko Karna, one of the deposed leader’s hosts in Finland, said on Twitter that “Puigdemont departed from Finland Friday evening by unknown means to Belgium”.

Alonso-Cuevillas had earlier told Catalunya Radio Puigdemont would not try to escape arrest.

“When the European arrest warrant was issued [a first time], he made himself available to the Belgian justice and police, and he would do the same thing now. I have not spoken to him yet but that is clear, yes,” he said.

Separatist parties won regional elections in December called by Madrid after the October attempt at succession. The election saw them retain their absolute majority in parliament, but they have still not been able to form a government and face growing legal pressures that have seen many moderate their tone.

Now, with numerous leaders abroad or in jail, the separatists have struggled to re-organise or even remain in politics.

‘They can’t put us all in prison’: violent protests erupt in Catalonia after arrest of separatist leaders

In Barcelona on Saturday, the Catalan parliament had to suspend its debates after regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull, who had been due to seek a second-round vote in the parliament, was placed in custody over the region’s breakaway bid.

It is the third time that the parliament has been unable to nominate a new president, after Puigdemont and another pro-independence leader, Jordi Sanchez who is currently in jail, were forced to withdraw their candidacies.

As long has it does not have a government, Catalonia will remain under direct rule from Madrid.

Reporting by Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse