Former Catalan president in exile Carles Puigdemont was awaiting a hearing in Italy on Friday after his arrest four years after fleeing Spain following an independence referendum that Madrid deemed illegal.
The MEP, based in Belgium since late 2017, was arrested Thursday in the Sardinian town of Alghero on his way to a cultural festival, assistants said.
“It is clear that Carles Puigdemont must be brought to justice and be tried,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday after the former Catalan leader spent the night in an Italian prison.
“The first thing is to settle his personal situation, that is to say if he remains in detention, if he obtains a bond or if there is a condition for his release,” told AFP the Brussels lawyer Gonzalo Boye.
– Request his release –
It also comes at a sensitive time, nine days after Spain’s left-wing government and regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
And in Barcelona, the regional capital of Catalonia, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Italian consulate, some holding makeshift signs reading “Liberty” in Catalan in the photo of Puigdemont.
The October 2017 referendum was organized by the separatist regional government of Catalonia despite a ban from Madrid and the process was marred by police violence.
Madrid quickly decided to prosecute the remaining Catalan separatists, sentencing nine of them to long prison terms.
In March, the European Parliament lifted the immunity of Puigdemont and two other pro-independence MPs, a decision that was upheld in July by the EU General Court.
“Someone misled the General Court (EU) to lift the precautionary measures,” Boye told AFP.
Aragones, a more moderate separatist who took over Catalonia earlier this year, said the only solution to the region’s political crisis was “self-determination.”
And Quim Torra, who had taken over after Puigdemont’s flight, said his extradition to Spain would be “catastrophic” and urged independence activists to be “on high alert”.
Many rallies have been scheduled for Friday evening with another large rally scheduled for Sunday at noon.
Madrid have said they will respect the decision of the Italian courts.
The Italian government has said it will not get involved. “The procedure is entirely left to the judicial authorities,” said a statement from the Ministry of Justice.