Spain Catalonia: Puigdemont’s arrest in Germany sparks mass protests

Protests broke out across the Spanish region of Catalonia on Sunday after former leader Carles Puigdemont was taken into custody in Germany.

At least 89 people were injured in clashes with police and four arrests were made.

Mr Puigdemont, who is wanted in Spain for sedition and rebellion, was detained by German police acting on a European arrest warrant.

He will appear before a German judge later on Monday.

Mr Puigdemont was detained while crossing from Denmark on his way to Belgium, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since Catalonia’s parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain in October.

Germany has 60 days to decide whether to return him.

In order to do so, its judges need to assess whether the Spanish charges are punishable under German law.

Criminal lawyer Martin Heger told Germany’s Spiegel website (in German) that the lesser charge of misappropriation of public funds was also a crime under German law, and therefore it was clear that the exiled ex-leader would have to be extradited.

However, if he is extradited on that charge, he can only be tried on that offence.

It is unclear whether the alleged crimes of rebellion and sedition are punishable in Germany.

The extradition procedure can last about two months.

Mt Puigdemont also has the right to oppose the warrant and apply for asylum in Germany.

Spain’s latest move is considered the most serious challenge to date to the Catalan independence movement. Almost the entire leadership now faces a major legal fight.

Various other Catalan politicians have been subjected to new warrants, including Catalonia’s former education minister, Clara Ponsati. She is in Scotland, where she has a position at the University of St Andrews, and is preparing to hand herself in.

The number of European arrest warrants issued has increased since 2005, according to EU figures. In 2015, about 16,000 warrants were issued and about 5,000 executed.

How did we get here?

1 October 2017: The independence referendum takes place in Catalonia; it is deemed illegal by Spain and boycotted by many potential voters

27 October: Catalonia’s leaders declare independence, which leads to the Spanish government imposing direct rule on the region and dissolving its parliament

30 October: Charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds are brought against various sacked members of the Catalan government, including Mr Puigdemont

2 November: Several former Catalan ministers are taken into custody in Spain

3 November: European arrest warrants are issued against Mr Puigdemont and four of his allies, who have all fled to Belgium

5 December: A Spanish judge withdraws the European arrest warrants but says the group still face possible charges for sedition and rebellion

21 December: Carles Puigdemont is re-elected to parliament during Catalan’s regional elections – which Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy had called to “restore democracy”

1 March 2018: Mr Puigdemont says he is stepping aside and he backs detained activist Jordi Sanchez to run as Catalonia’s president

21 March: Mr Sanchez drops his leadership bid and instead the candidacy is passed to Jordi Turull, who the following day is rejected by hardline separatists

23 March: Mr Turull and various others are arrested in Spain, and the European arrest warrants are reissued

25 March: Mr Puigdemont is detained in Germany

Carles Puigdemont: The man who wants to break up Spain

Catalonia’s sacked President Carles Puigdemont has spearheaded the region’s peaceful drive for independence from Spain.

In defiance of the law and Spain’s constitution, he has pushed forward in the hope of international recognition.

But his zeal for secession has put him on a collision course with Madrid. It outlawed the independence referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October.

After imposing direct rule, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a snap Catalan election. But the result on 21 December was bad news for Madrid. The separatists won a slim majority, even though a pro-unity party came top.

  • Madrid’s enforcer for Catalonia

    “It is time for the political recipe, which Rajoy failed at,” Mr Puigdemont said, calling again for negotiations with the Spanish leader. “He has only demonstrated a greater mobilisation of Catalans, greater votes.”

    His popularity cuts across class, coming as he does from comparatively modest origins, outside the Catalan elite which for years dominated the local centre-right alliance, Convergence and Union (now known as the Catalan European Democratic Party).

    “Mr Puigdemont has been absolutely key to bringing Catalonia to where we are now,” says Montse Daban, international chairperson of the Catalan National Assembly, a grassroots pro-independence movement.

    “He’s been an absolute and positive surprise for Catalan citizens, who were already supporting the independence process and saw with dismay that it was facing several burdens.”

    But in the eyes of Spain’s government, the Catalan leader has ruthlessly created a crisis, burning all the bridges in order to make a unilateral declaration of independence.

    “Democracy is not about voting – there are referenda in dictatorships too,” a Madrid government source told the BBC. “Only when you vote with guarantees according to the law is it a democracy.”

    • Reality Check: Would Catalonia be a viable country?

      The images of violence at the polling stations were “150% part of Puigdemont’s plan”, the source said.

      “It’s unfortunate because it was a trap. There’s no doubt it looks bad for the Spanish government.”

      New platform

      Mr Puigdemont talks the language of independence in a way his more cautious predecessor, Artur Mas, did not during the dry-run referendum of 2014, which was also banned by Madrid.

      Speaking to the BBC after the 1 October referendum, Mr Puigdemont said: “I think we’ve won the right to be heard, but what I find harder to understand is this indifference – or absolute lack of interest – in understanding what is happening here. They’ve never wanted to listen to us.

      “How can we explain to the world that Europe is a paradise of democracy if we hit old women and people who’ve done nothing wrong? This is not acceptable. We haven’t seen such a disproportionate and brutal use of force since the death of the dictator Franco.”

      He calls for mediation – something the Spanish government says is unacceptable.

      A Madrid source dismissed the idea, telling the BBC it would be “mediation between the Spanish government and part of the Spanish state”.

      From Brussels, Mr Puigdemont has watched as his Catalan allies back home have been placed in Spanish custody to face trial.

      He has been mocked by some for not going to Madrid along with them and placing himself in the hands of Spanish justice.

      One cartoon apparently being circulated on the Whatsapp messaging app shows him, with his distinctive mop of hair and glasses, hiding out in a box of Belgian chocolates.

      Skip Twitter post by @p_hansens

      Unsigned cartoon circulating on whatsApp : Where is #Puigdemont ? #Brussels #Catalonia

      — Pascal Hansens (@p_hansens) November 3, 2017


      End of Twitter post by @p_hansens

      But he has only followed the path taken by earlier Catalan leaders like Josep Tarradellas and LluĂ­s Companys, seeking refuge abroad from a hostile Spanish state.

      Mr Puigdemont told Belgian TV he was not hiding from “real justice” but from the “clearly politicised” Spanish legal system.

      While European arrest warrants against him and his four colleagues were later withdrawn by a Spanish judge, he still faces possible charges of rebellion and sedition if he returns.

      Just by being in Brussels, the man from Girona is keeping the cause he holds so dear, Catalan independence, squarely on the doorstep of the European Union.

Catalonia crisis in 300 words

Catalonia’s drive for independence has plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis for 40 years.

On 21 December pro-independence parties won a narrow majority in a Catalan election that Spain had called in the hope of ending the crisis. So independence remains a possibility.

What is Catalonia?

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain with a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years.

The wealthy region has about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem. Catalonia also has its own police force and controls some of its public services.

Why the controversy?

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid.

They also say Spain’s changes to their autonomous status in 2010 undermined Catalan identity.

In a referendum on 1 October, declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, about 90% of Catalan voters backed independence. But turnout was only 43%.

There were clashes when Spanish national police tried to prevent people voting.

The ruling separatists in the Catalan parliament then declared independence on 27 October.

Angered by that, Madrid imposed direct rule by invoking Article 155 of the constitution – a first for Spain.

The Spanish government sacked the Catalan leaders, dissolved parliament and called a snap regional election on 21 December.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium but is wanted in Spain accused of rebellion, as are four who fled with him. Two of his ex-ministers are in prison in Spain.

Why does the crisis matter?

Thousands of businesses have scaled down their operations in Catalonia.

The crisis is being watched nervously by other European states with strong nationalist movements.

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Catalonia in numbers