Spain to issue warrant for Catalan leader

MADRID: A judge in Madrid was set on Friday 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 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, dismissed last week as Catalan president by Spain’s government, failed to show up on Thursday to be grilled by the judge over alleged sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, accusations he calls 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, will 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 separatists militants challenge Spanish extradition requests, told Flemish television channel VRT on Thursday his client would appeal the move.
A dark-suited Puigdemont said on Thursday 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”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who wants independence from Britain, said on Friday that the crisis “should be resolved democratically — not by the jailing of political opponents.”
But otherwise Puigdemont’s appeal for foreign sympathy is likely to fall on deaf ears, with the international community overwhelmingly so far backing the central Spanish government.
Late on Thursday as television 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.
On Friday protesters briefly blocked several roads in Catalonia as well as a train line, authorities said. Fresh demonstrations were expected later.
Some 20,000 people, according to police, demonstrated in Barcelona, the regional capital, on Thursday. 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,” retiree Josep Manel Boix, 63, said.
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.” — AFP