Ex-Catalan leader granted conditional release in Belgium

By Bianca Taipe
Staff Writer

Ex-Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, seeks protection in Belgium following the wide-arrest warrant issued by the European Union. Madrid issued the arrest warrant on November 3, 2017 announcing that their reason to take action was due to the politicians “rebellion” and “sedition,” reports Al Jazeera.

The Belgian prosecutor’s office reported that Puigdemont, along with four other cabinet members- the ministers of agriculture, health, labor, governance, and interior- turned themselves in two days after the announcement of the arrest warrant. The former Catalan leader is expected to contest for Madrid as a result of his “lying” and “misuse of public funds”.

Puigdemont is currently unable to leave Belgium without a judge’s consent ever since he took himself into the police, according to Reuters. Catalan’s ex-leader and four of his ministers were granted conditional release from a Belgian judge. According to a statement from the prosecutor, Puigdemont and his ministers are to “appear at court within 15 days”. Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, stated that Mr. Puigdemont will be treated as “any other European citizen” regardless of his reputation and government role, reports BBC News

While the former Catalan leader sought protection in Brussels, he claimed that he was not seeking asylum despite the released comments from his hired lawyer that he was investigating asylum processes. At a press conference, Puigdemont states that he traveled to Belgium to be able to speak freely on the situation. According to BBC News, upon Spain’s suspension of Catalan autonomy, Puigdemont asked the Spanish government a question regarding future elections: “Will the state respect the results that could give separatist forces a majority?”.

According to ABC News, Ingio Mendez de Vigo, a spokesperson for the Spanish Government, stated that to be eligible to run in an election one must never have been convicted of a crime. This was in direct response to the actions of Puigdemont, but does not necessarily discredit the rest of the separatist forces.

During the Catalan Ex leader’s flee to Belgium, two polls were released suggesting that pro-Catalan independence parties could take the most seats in December’s election. Following Puigdemont’s question to the Spanish government, these polls show how the independence parties may still have a chance at seizing a large amount of seats even without the Ex Catalan leader. However, they may just fall short of reaching a majority which is crucial for the succession campaign.

The independence referendum demonstrated that only around 40 percent of eligible Catalan voters actually participated in the vote, weakening the “90 percent in favor” of the succession. This shows that the grand majority did not vote in the referendum and many of them do not want independence. Catalonia is Spain’s wealthiest region with a strong economy that contributes nearly 20 percent of Spain’s GDP, reports CNBC News.

The former leader of Catalan noted that he expects to return to Spain once he is “given guarantees” by the government. According to ABC News, Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for Brussels prosecutors, states that the entire process from arrest to extradition, could take more than 60 days for the former Catalan leader and four of his cabinet members.

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