Ex-Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont released in Italy
An Italian judge has ordered the release of former Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, but he will have to remain on the island of Sardinia while his case is under review, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Puigdemont, who fled Spain to avoid jail after leading a failed secession attempt in 2017, was arrested upon his arrival at Sardinia’s Alghero airport, according to a statement from his office late on Thursday. Puigdemont lawyers could not be immediately reached for comment.
The sudden arrest ignited a political storm in Spain just as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez started talks with Catalan officials to find a way out of the secession dispute. Sanchez pardoned nine Catalan separatist leaders earlier this year to open the negotiations - among them former Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, who never left the country and has already served time in jail.
Catalan President Pere Aragones, who is leading the negotiations with Sanchez, had called for Puigdemont’s immediate release and accused the Spanish state of deceiving European courts. Sanchez said Puigdemont should submit to justice, but appealed for talks to continue all the same.
“This is a heavy blow to the negotiations, and there is not much Sanchez can do,” said Ignacio Jurado, a political science professor at Carlos III University in Madrid.
Puigdemont’s defence team will fight his extradition to Spain, where he has been charged with sedition after triggering an independence referendum, his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, said at a briefing earlier in Brussels.
Sanchez’s shaky ruling coalition needs Aragones’ Esquerra Republicana party to approve next year’s national budget and push ahead with reforms to overhaul an economy recovering from the sharpest contraction in the eurozone last year.
In July, the European Parliament lifted Puigdemont’s immunity as a lawmaker, a decision that was then appealed. His lawyer Boye said the arrest warrant had been suspended.
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