Catalonia’s fugitive ex-leader Carles Puigdemont vows to form new government as Spain seeks arrest warrant

The trip to Denmark is the latest bid by Carles Puigdemont to attract attention to his campaign to split Catalonia from Spain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 10:31pm

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Monday vowed to form a new government despite “threats” from the central government in Madrid, after a Spanish judge refused to reissue a European warrant for his arrest.

Speaking at a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen, Puigdemont said: “We will not surrender to authoritarianism despite Madrid’s threats.”

“Soon we will form a new government … it’s time to end their oppression and find a political solution for Catalonia,” he added.

His comments came after the speaker of the Catalan parliament Roger Torrent said Puigdemont’s candidacy to once again head Catalonia’s regional government is “absolutely legitimate”, even though the secessionist leader faces criminal proceedings over his role in Catalonia’s independence drive.

In a major blow to the central government in Madrid, separatist parties once again won an absolute majority in the Catalan regional parliament in a snap election in December.

Puigdemont wants to be invested from Belgium, where he fled in late October after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence. He now faces arrest if he returns to Catalonia over his role in the independence drive.

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The Madrid government has ruled out his being allowed to rule from outside the country and even his separatist allies – the left-wing ERC party of Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras – are cool in private to his bid to rule from abroad.

Spanish prosecutors on Monday sought a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont as he arrived in Copenhagen in his first trip outside Belgium since he fled to the country.

The prosecution service asked Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena to reissue an arrest warrant for the secessionist leader, sacked by Madrid after the Catalan parliament declared independence, and urge Denmark to hand him over, a judicial source said.

Llarena had dropped a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his deputies who fled to Belgium in early December, saying it would complicate the overall probe into the region’s leaders – but warned they would be arrested if they return.

He is not obliged to agree to the request to reissue the warrant.

Compromise needed in Spanish stand-off

Puigdemont and the rest of his ousted government have been charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over their separatist push.

Danish broadcaster TV2 released an image on its website of Puigdemont being surrounded by reporters after his plane landed in Copenhagen Airport.

Three other separatist lawmakers are already in custody in Spain over their role in Catalonia’s separatist push, including Junqueras, his former deputy.

The parliamentary vote to choose a new Catalan leader is due to take place by the end of January.

The Catalan parliament’s legal experts have said that any presidential contender has to be physically present, but Puigdemont insists he has the legitimate mandate of the people to rule.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated on Saturday that governing Catalonia from abroad would be “illegal” and has warned Madrid would maintain its direct control over the region and will take the matter to court if Puigdemont sought remote rule.

Madrid’s direct rule has proven very unpopular in a region that had enjoyed considerable autonomy before its leaders attempted to break away from Spain.

Catalonia’s separatist push has sparked Spain’s biggest constitutional crisis since the country returned to democracy following the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and has deeply worried the country’s EU partners.

Having been in Belgium for three months without a residence permit, he would also have to leave, albeit briefly, to conform with EU residence laws.