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Spain’s Dictator Is Dead, but His Popularity Lives On

Francisco Franco ran Spain with an iron fist for decades—and created myths about his rule that are only now starting to come undone.
BY OMAR G. ENCARNACIÓN | JULY 27, 2018

Last month, within days of taking office, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced his government’s intention to exhume the remains of Francisco Franco, the strongman who ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death of natural causes in 1975. Expected to take place before the end of the summer, the exhumation plan calls for transferring Franco’s remains to a location yet to be determined. Just as controversial is Sánchez’s proposal to transform the remains’ current resting place, the Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen), into a memorial for the victims of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

El Valle, one of Europe’s largest and most imposing public monuments (the entire complex, often derided for its fascist theatricality, includes a basilica, a Benedictine abbey, and a cross rising some 500 feet that is visible from over 30 miles away), was inaugurated by Franco himself in 1959 to mark the 20th anniversary of his victory in the Civil War. Virtually untouched since Franco’s embalmed body was interred there, the monument is a veritable shrine to Francoism and an obligatory pilgrimage for Franco’s defenders. In recent weeks, the most devout of these defenders have taken to the streets of Madrid chanting, “El Valle no se toca” (Don’t touch the valley).

To outside observers, the news of Franco’s exhumation and the controversy around it give rise to obvious questions: Why was Franco spared the popular infamy at home accorded to fellow fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini? And why is the status quo about how Franco has been memorialized since his death getting upended now? Answering these questions requires delving into the peculiarities of how Spain became a democracy in the late 1970s and the unusual choices about the country’s dark and painful history made by the politicians and the public as part of the democratic transition.

Much about Franco’s fate, both materially and figuratively, in the period after his death is due to the fact that the transition to democracy in Spain left very little room for justice and accountability toward the old regime. Unlike its sister dictatorship in Portugal—the António de Oliveira Salazar regime—which was uprooted by a popular uprising, the Franco regime was reinvented from the inside out as a democracy by a process of political reform spearheaded by a young King Juan Carlos. Although the king had promised Franco to carry on with “Francoism without Franco,” after the death of the dictator—and responding to the popular clamoring for democracy—he went back on his word and put Spain on the path to democracy by calling for free elections in 1977.

The democratic reinvention of the Franco regime meant that the losing side of the Civil War—the Republicans, a mostly leftist coalition of liberals, communists, socialists, and anarchists that resisted Franco’s assault on the popularly elected Second Republic—never got the chance to make Franco pay for his political sins. In what historians have referred to as the “Spanish Holocaust,” as many as 200,000 political dissidents were executed by Franco’s militias; an additional 400,000 were imprisoned in jails and concentration camps established by Franco after the end of the Civil War, where many died of malnutrition and starvation. An unknown number of prisoners were forced into virtual slavery to aid in the postwar reconstruction effort, including building El Valle. Some 500,000 people fled Spain as political refugees.

As part of the political negotiations that allowed for a swift and orderly transition to democracy, politicians from across the ideological spectrum agreed to a “pact of forgetting” that was institutionalized with a broad amnesty law, enacted just before the 1977 elections. This was “amnesty for everyone” as one politician put it, since it included anyone who had ever committed a political offense prior to 1977. Despite bearing the brunt of Franco’s repression, the left was eager to support this pact. It helped conceal the left’s political sins, especially the so-called Red Terror, the wave of killings that left anywhere from 20,000 to 70,000 Francoist supporters dead, including some 2,000 clergy, many of them later beatified by the Pope as Civil War martyrs.

An important reason why the politicians were able to let bygones be bygones was the complicity of the public. At the heart of this complicity is the ambivalence that many Spaniards feel toward the Franco regime. Polling data gathered in 2008 by Madrid’s Center for Sociological Research, a government research center, showed that a majority of the public acknowledged that Franco did “both good and bad things.” This data also showed the public opposed to the prosecution of former Franco officials and lukewarm about a truth commission to assign responsibility for the Civil War. And no national organization demanding accountability against the old regime emerged until the movement for the recovery of the historical memory began to gain steam in the early 2000s.

Spanish society’s complicity in silencing the past did not develop in a vacuum. In the wake of Franco’s death, fears of another civil conflict and another dictatorship were widespread. Less apparent is the intense process of political socialization that the public endured under the dictatorship. The Franco regime encouraged silence about the Civil War, which accounts for why Spaniards who lived through the war have very few recollections of this event being discussed at home, in schools, or in the workplace. After the end of the Civil War, Franco and his allies also began to promote numerous myths about the war and the regime—aided by a vast propaganda machine, including press reports, films and documentaries, and school textbooks—that in the post-transition period have done wonders to discourage any revisiting of the past.

Among the popular myths of the Civil War is that of shared responsibility, which holds both sides of the conflict equally at fault. It conveniently overlooks the fact that in 1936, Franco overthrew a popularly elected government. Another popular myth is “collective madness,” which absurdly theorizes that Spaniards lost their minds and began killing each other for no logical reason. Yet another popular narrative is to blame foreign ideological influences, especially anarchism. In this view, Spain is cast as a victim of outside forces. Nothing, however, trumps the salvation theory, the view that Franco’s uprising in 1936 saved Spain from the chaos and violence of the Second Republic. This outrageously cynical reading of history ignores both the chaos and violence that Franco inflicted on Spain, and that whatever degree of peace Franco was able to bring to the country was purchased with the lives of close to 1 million people.

The salvation theory was boosted by the political stability that Spain enjoyed after 1959—after all those in opposition to Franco had been either killed or forced into exile—and by an economic “miracle” that began to unfold in the early 1960s and lifted millions of Spaniards from abject poverty to the ranks of the middle class. Paradoxically, this very success undermined the salvation theory by blurring the memory of the Civil War and the misery of the postwar years. Thus, by the 1960s, the notion of the Franco dictatorship as a modernizing regime was born, with socioeconomic progress as the regime’s new rationale for its existence. In the post-transition era, this last regime reinvention has allowed Franco’s defenders to claim that the dictatorship paved the way for the successful democracy that Spain is today.

It was not until 2007, with the enacting of the Historical Memory Law by the Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that the Civil War myths promoted by the Franco regime began to be seriously questioned. The law declared the Franco government illegitimate; called for the removal from public view of public monuments honoring the Franco regime, save for those with historical significance; provided financial compensation to those victimized by the Franco regime; restored Spanish citizenship to the Republican exile community; and created a center for the study of the Civil War in the city of Salamanca. Propelling the law was a new generation of Spaniards curious about the Civil War and no longer traumatized by the memories of the past, including Zapatero, the grandson of a military captain executed by a Francoist brigade for refusing to join the rebellion against the Republican government.

Sánchez, another Socialist leader too young to have been affected by the Francoist socialization of Spanish society and to have partaken in the transition, is clearly following in Zapatero’s footsteps. Despite protests by right-wing groups, there is relatively little risk for Sánchez in exhuming Franco’s remains. The conservative opposition Popular Party, which fiercely opposed the 2007 Historical Memory Law, is in disarray, having been unceremoniously ousted from power in June after a no-confidence vote and fighting a challenge from the right by the Ciudadanos party. The Spanish Bishops’ Conference, which has a say over any tinkering with El Valle due to the monument’s status as a religious site, is staying neutral on the exhumation. Franco’s relatives are not objecting, noting that Franco never expressed any desire to be buried at El Valle. Their only disagreement is what to do with the remains.

Most important, 56 percent of the public is in favor of the exhumation. This signals how much further along the public is on the issue of the past than when the 2007 Historical Memory Law was enacted. At that time, 52 percent of the public thought it best to leave Franco’s remains undisturbed. This shift in public opinion reflects, in no small measure, the success of the memory law in breaking the taboo of legislating the memory of the Civil War and in making the public more aware about the human rights abuses of the old regime. In 2011, Spain was shaken by allegations that under Franco some 300,000 babies were stolen from “undesirable” parents and sold to “approved” families. Operated by a sinister network of nuns, priests, and doctors, the trafficking began in the 1930s to “save” the babies from their “red” parents, but it later grew to include “morally deficient parents.” It lasted into the 1980s, when adoption laws were revised.

Not surprisingly, many see political calculation in Sánchez’s decision to exhume Franco, including a bid to improve his reelection chances by energizing left-wing voters. Indeed, the exhumation fits well within Sánchez’s strategy of recasting Spain as a modern, forward-looking, liberal state. This recasting is a not-too-thinly veiled appeal to progressive voters nationwide, but especially in the restive region of Catalonia, where the claim that Spain (and the central administration in Madrid in particular) is backward-looking and wedded to the past has been a rallying cry in the region’s drive for independence.

But whether an act of political opportunism or not, moving Franco’s remains out of El Valle would be one of most consequential decisions made by any Spanish premier in the post-Franco era. Aside from allowing for the creation of an appropriate memorial to the victims of the Civil War, the exhumation would clear the way for many of the things that the international human rights community, including the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances, has for years been demanding from Spain, especially state support for the exhumation and proper burial of those in thousands of Civil War-era mass graves found all over the Spanish territory—the majority of them Republican. Ironically, it is the political stability created by the silencing of the past after Franco’s death that today allows Spain to undertake these painful tasks.

Omar G. Encarnación is a professor of political studies at Bard College and author of Democracy Without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting.

More: Foreign Policy

Ex-Catalan leader returns to Belgium from Germany after extradition bid fails

MADRID (Reuters) – Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont returned from Germany to Belgium on Saturday after Spain failed in an attempt to extradite him from Germany on charges of rebellion over an illegal declaration of independence.

Puigdemont said he would continue traveling around Europe to raise support for the cause of Catalan independence. He fled to Belgium in October after Madrid imposed direct rule on the region after his administration declared independence.

“This will not be my last stop, this is not the end of my journey,” he told a press conference in Brussels held alongside current Catalan leader Quim Torra, who had traveled from Spain to greet him.

“I will travel around Europe to the four corners of the continent to defend our cause.”

Puigdemont was arrested on March 25 at a petrol station in the northern German region of Schleswig-Holstein while returning to Belgium after a journey to Finland.

A German court ruled earlier this month that Puigdemont, 55, could be extradited to Spain to face a separate charge for misuse of public funds, but not for a more serious charge of rebellion.

Under European law, that means Spain would have been barred from trying him on the more serious charge if the extradition were to proceed. The Spanish court rejected that proposal, lifting the arrest warrant altogether.

The charges against Puigdemont and the five others remain in place however, meaning they would be arrested if they return to Spain.

Relations between Spain’s central government in Madrid and the Catalan capital Barcelona have thawed in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Sanchez hosting cordial talks with Torra in Madrid earlier in July.

But Sanchez, who took office in June after his more hardline conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy lost a confidence vote, has ruled out allowing any referendum on independence, saying it goes against Spain’s constitution.

Puigdemont said on Saturday Sanchez’s period of grace regarding the Catalan issue was over and it was a time for action, not words.

(This version of the story has been refiled to make third para read that Torra traveled from Spain to greet Puigdemont in Belgium.)

Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Mark Heinrich

More at: Reuters

Catalan president: We want actions, not words from Madrid

Quim Torra was speaking alongside former President Carles Puigdemont who has returned to Belgium after being detained in Germany.

The new Spanish government must show its commitment to resolving the Catalan issue through actions, not just words, the region’s president Quim Torra said.

Torra said that he had begun a dialogue with Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sánchez earlier this month, but that the Spanish government needed to show more commitment to resolving the issue politically.

The president was speaking a press conference in Brussels flanked by the region’s former leader Carles Puigdemont who has returned to Belgium after spending a month in custody in Germany where he was detained under a European arrest warrant but subsequently released.

Puigdemont stepped up his criticism of the EU over Catalonia’s bid for independence and the referendum last October which was marred by criticism of heavy-handed policing of the vote. He said he was disappointed with the response from EU leaders.

“I was very disappointed by the reaction of [Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker and other European leaders not because of their opinions about an independent Catalonia, but for their silence about that kind of violation of fundamental rights in part of the European Union,” the exiled politician said.

“I’m sure the point of view of the majority of European society about our problem or demands are clearly in favour of the fundamental values of democracy,” he added.

Torra told journalists it was a positive step that talks had begun with Madrid. “The idea is that we started a dialogue and imagine how far we have come. That is new,” said the Catalan president. “We think that in the 21st century that if you agree this is a political issue that should be solved politically then the only way to solve that is voting.”

He added that it is now up to the Spanish government to demonstrate its commitment to a dialogue with the Catalan government through action, not only words.

More at Politico

Spain revokes international arrest warrants for Catalan leaders after Germany bars extradition

Spain’s supreme court has dropped its international arrest warrants for Carles Puigdemont and other Catalonian politicians wanted on charges of rebellion for declaring Catalonia’s independence last year.

It comes after a German court ruled Mr Puigdemont could not be sent back to Spain for rebellion, only for the separate charge of embezzlement for the alleged misuse of public funds for a referendum on secession.

Mr Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest after the Spanish government removed him and his cabinet from office at the end of October.

In March, he was arrested in Germany as he travelled from Finland to Brussels and is believed to be living in Hamburg.

Under European law, if the extradition went ahead, Spain could not then try the former regional president on the more serious charge of rebellion.

Judge Pablo Llarena was scathing in her assessment of the German court’s decision, describing it as “a lack of commitment” in pursuing the fugitives.

Mr Llarena said he wanted Mr Puigdemont and his allies to face charges of rebellion and sedition, as well as misuse of public funds.

He lifted the arrest warrant and dropped international and European arrest warrants for five other Catalan pro-independence leaders living abroad.

It is the second time Madrid has revoked the arrest warrant for Mr Puigdemont since he went into self-imposed exile when his independence bid for Catalonia collapsed last year.

If the six politicians living in exile were to return to Spain voluntarily, they would still face rebellion and sedition charges.

The Catalan separatist movement regarded the development as a victory against Spain’s central authorities.

Mr Puigmont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, declared triumph in a Twitter post, writing: “It looks like we have a memorable summer.”

The charges related to the Catalan regional government’s unauthorised referendum on independence from Spain on 1 October, and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by the separatist-controlled regional parliament.

While the declaration won no international recognition, it led to a standoff between the regional powers in the Catalan capital of Barcelona and the national authorities in Madrid, which was considered Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades.

Nine other prominent Catalan separatist politicians are in Spanish jails, awaiting possible trial for promoting the region’s attempt to secede.

More about: | Carles Puigdemont | Spain | Germany

More: INDEPENDENT

Ex-Catalonia Leader Can Be Extradited, but Not on the Charge Spain Wants

A German court ruled on Thursday that Catalonia’s former leader, Carles Puigdemont, can be extradited to Spain, but only on fraud charges and not for rebellion, the main charge he faced in Spain after Catalonia’s botched declaration of independence last year.

The decision is a setback for the Spanish judiciary, which had hoped the German court would allow Mr. Puigdemont to stand trial on a rebellion charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

Under the lesser charge of corruption related to the misuse of public money, Mr. Puigdemont could still be sentenced to prison. But if such financial crime sentences are two years or less, they are normally suspended in Spain for first-time offenders.

Mr. Puigdemont is accused of misusing public money to organize an illegal independence referendum on Oct. 1, when he was president of the restive region. Two dozen other Catalan politicians are also facing trial; some are being held in prison, while a handful of others are fighting extradition.

The German court’s decision is the latest twist in a complicated legal battle that gained an international dimension last October, when Mr. Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain, alongside some other members of his former cabinet.

They left shortly after Madrid used emergency constitutional powers to oust Mr. Puigdemont’s administration and place Catalonia under direct rule. In March, while traveling by car from Finland to Belgium, Mr. Puigdemont was arrested by the German police on an international arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge.

In Thursday’s ruling, the German high court of the state of Schleswig-Holstein also ruled that Mr. Puigdemont did not represent a flight risk and therefore should not be taken into police custody before being sent back to Spain.

No date has been set for extradition, but it is expected to happen soon, according to Wiebke Hoffelner, a Schleswig-Holstein state prosecutor.

Mr. Puigdemont could take the difficult route of lodging an appeal before Germany’s constitutional court, if his lawyers can convince the court that his basic human rights were violated. In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Puigdemont’s lawyers said they were considering how to proceed.

Pablo Llarena, the Spanish Supreme Court judge who is presiding over the trial against Mr. Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians, has said that Spain’s judiciary could take the case to the European Court of Justice if Germany blocked Mr. Puigdemont’s extradition on the charges sought by Madrid. There was no immediate response from Judge Llarena to the German decision.

The court’s decision is in line with a preliminary ruling in April, which found that the rebellion charge could not be honored in Germany “because evidence of ‘violence’ is not present.” Violence is a component of the charge in Spain’s legal code.

Since then, however, Spain’s political landscape has changed considerably. A Socialist government took office in Madrid last month, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. His predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, had vehemently opposed Catalonia’s separatist movement, and moved to block an effort to re-elect Mr. Puigdemont as the region’s leader in May.

Mr. Sánchez said on Thursday that his government respected judicial decisions. And although he did not weigh in on whether extradition on the rebellion charge should also have been allowed, he said at a news conference that Spanish society “expected the people involved in the events of the second half of 2017 to be judged by Spanish courts.” He added: “This will happen.”

Writing on Twitter, Mr. Puigdemont welcomed the decision by the German court to strike down “the main lie of the state” by not recognizing the independence referendum as an act of rebellion.

And Quim Torra, who leads a separatist coalition that formed a new Catalan regional government in June, called the German ruling “great news.” He added: “Today the fictitious narrative of the Spanish state has fallen apart.”

On Monday, Mr. Torra visited Madrid to meet with Mr. Sánchez for the first time, an encounter that both men described as positive. The prime minister had previously vowed to “find a political solution to a political crisis” and return to the negotiating table.

Mr. Sánchez, whose weak Socialist government relies in part on support from the Catalan parties, has also allowed the jailed Catalan politicians to be transferred from Madrid to prisons within their region.

In Barcelona, Mr. Torra is also in a fragile position: His unwieldy coalition of separatist parties appears to have run out of political options after the failed independence effort.

Mr. Puigdemont’s return to Spain and a trial of the main Catalan separatist leaders could potentially prolong a dispute that has raised broader concerns about the rule of law in the European Union. On Thursday, some center-right politicians in Spain questioned the purpose of a European arrest warrant if courts in different countries did not apply the same criteria.

When Mr. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels last October, he said his goal was to make Spain’s territorial conflict an international issue and bring Catalonia into “the institutional heart of Europe,” as Brussels is home to the most important institutions of the European Union.

His lawyers said in their statement on Thursday that Mr. Puigdemont was only “being sought for criminal prosecution by the Spanish authorities because he enabled a democratic referendum to take place as instructed by his voters.”

“We are convinced that Germany should not play any part in the criminalization of democratic acts of this kind,” they added, “and that it should stay out of the highly charged domestic disputes of other states.”

Raphael Minder reported from Madrid, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.

The New York Times

Catalan protesters call for return of jailed or exiled leaders

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have taken to the streets of Barcelona to call for the return of the 16 Catalan leaders who are in prison or have fled the country in the aftermath of last October’s unilateral independence referendum.

Sunday’s mass demonstration, which was called by the two main Catalan pro-independence groups and backed by the regional branches of Spain’s two biggest unions, took place under the slogan “For rights and freedoms, for democracy and cohesion, we want you home!”

Police put attendance at 315,000 while the organisers said 750,000 people had turned out to take part in the protest, with the city’s streets once again filled with people dressed in yellow clutching pro-independence estelada flags.

The former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium at the end of October and is on bail in Germany, tweeted that the march was “a great civic and democratic demonstration”, adding: “We are European citizens who just want to live in peace, free and without fear.”

Elsa Artadi, a spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said the event put paid to suggestions that the independence movement was running out of steam.

“We’re once again showing all those who say that the movement is demobilising, or that people are tired, that things aren’t that way,” she said. “We’re here today because there are 16 people in prison or in exile for defending political ideas that represent 2 million people.”

Alex de Ferrer, a 50-year-old IT specialist, told Agence France Presse that he had decided to join the protest as jailing separatist leaders “only serves to manufacture separatists”.

While conceding that the arrests of prominent Catalan leaders on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds had left the independence movement “decapitated”, he said the setback was only temporary.

The involvement of the Catalan branches of the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers’ Union was not universally endorsed as some members oppose the region’s secession.

But the regional secretary general of the latter defended the move. “The majority of Catalans, regardless of their political position, agree that pre-trial jail is not justified,” said Camil Ros. “What we as labour unions are asking for now is dialogue.”

The protest came almost six months after the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded to the illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by sacking Puigdemont’s government and taking direct controlof the region.

Rajoy also called elections in December, a move that backfired after the pro-independence bloc retained its parliamentary majority. Repeated attempts to form a new Catalan government have come to nothing as Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile and two other presidential candidates – Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull – are on remand.

Despite the huge turnout and the talk of cohesion and coexistence, polls suggest Catalans remain deeply and almost evenly divided over the notion of seceding from Spain.

While the overwhelming majority of people in the region favour a legal referendum agreed between Madrid and Barcelona, a recent survey found that support for independence dropped from 48.7% last October to 40.8% in February this year.

An anti-independence rally held in Barcelona last November attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. Police put attendance at 350,000; organisers said 930,000 people took part.

The Guardian

German court bails Puigdemont in extradition hearing

Judges at the upper state court in Schleswig-Holstein ruled against extradition for the rebellion allegation because Puigdemont was not personally involved in violence during a referendum on Catalan independence last October,

That made his actions not punishable under German law, the judges said, rejecting prosecutors’ argument that the Spanish “rebellion” charge was similar enough to Germany’s “high treason” statute to justify an extradition.

The Catalan separatist figurehead could still be extradited on a charge of misusing public funds, the judges added, although “further facts must be clarified and information gathered” in the coming days and weeks.

But meanwhile Puigdemont can leave custody if he fulfils court-imposed conditions including a payment of 75,000 euros ($92,000).

Regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung reported that the politician would also have to report to the police every week and would not be allowed to leave Germany without prosecutors’ consent.

It was not immediately clear when Puigdemont would leave the prison in Neumuenster where he has been held since his arrest on March 25.

‘Outrageous’ charge

German lawyer Till Dunckel told news agency DPA that the bail conditions would be fulfilled as quickly as possible, but that Puigdemont might not leave jail on Thursday evening.

Puigdemont’s German defence team welcomed the court’s decision to set aside the “outrageous” charge of rebellion in a statement.

They “respected” judges’ decision to ask for more information from Spain on the misuse of funds charge in a “case with trend-setting signficance for the European understanding of democracy,” they added.

“[Puigdemont] always said that he had full confidence in the German judiciary,” his Barcelona-based lawyer Jaime Alonso-Cuevillas tweeted.

A Spanish government source told AFP that Madrid “always respects” judicial decisions “whether they please it or not”.

“The government is sure that Spain’s justice system will take the appropriate measures given these new circumstances, to ensure respect for the laws of our country,” the source added.

If extradited only on the charge of misusing public funds, Puigdemont cannot be prosecuted in Spain on the more serious charge of rebellion.

There is no such offence on German law books, although prosecutors had argued that it could be seen as roughly equivalent to the crime of “high treason”.

The misuse of public funds charge relates to the cost of the Catalan independence referendum, estimated at 1.6 million euros by Madrid.

Puigdemont’s lawyers have appealed in Spain against the “rebellion” charge, highlighting that he was not involved in violence.

Flight across Europe

After being removed from office by the central government in Madrid following his unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, Puigdemont fled to Belgium.

He was arrested in northern Germany in late March on the way back from a trip to Finland.

Puigdemont and six political allies escaped Spanish authorities in an attempt to “internationalise” their plight by dragging other European Union countries into the row.

Nine other pro-independence figures are currently in custody, including six members of Puigdemont’s Catalan government and the former president of the Catalan parliament.

Source: AFP – SBSnews, Australia

German court says Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail

A court in northern Germany has ruled that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail while extradition proceedings continue.

The district court in Schleswig set bail for the 55-year-old at €75,000 (£66,000).

Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum.

The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.

Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said.

“There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.”

Puigdemont has written an open letter from prison, urging Catalonia’s parliament to make another attempt to elect jailed separatist activist Jordi Sànchez as the region’s president.

Puigdemont had proposed Sànchez as his number two in the Together for Catalonia party last month, but Spain’s supreme court refused to free him to attend a parliamentary session. Sànchez said in a letter from a Madrid jail published on Thursday that he was ready to try again to be elected.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

The Guardian

Clashes in Barcelona after former Catalan leader is detained in Germany

Mr Puigdemont faces up to 25 years in prison in Spain for organising an illegal referendum on secession last year.

He had entered Germany from Denmark after leaving Finland on Friday when it appeared police would arrest him there and begin an extradition process requested by Spain.

The detention threatens to worsen the Catalan crisis which flared last year when the region made a symbolic declaration of independence, prompting Madrid to take direct rule.

German police said they had arrested Mr Puigdemont in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

Police did not say exactly where Mr Puigdemont, who had been living in Brussels since late October, was being held but Spanish press said he was at a police station in the nearby town of Schuby.

German magazine Focus said Spanish intelligence informed the BKA federal police that Mr Puigdemont was on his way from Finland to Germany. It gave no source for its report.

Police use force against protestors

In Barcelona, police dressed in riot gear struck demonstrators with batons as they tried to push back a large crowd attempting to advance on the office of the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia.

Catalan police have blocked the street and issued a call for people not to gather.

Thousands answered the call by a pro-independence grassroots group to protest in the city centre hours after Mr Puigdemont was detained by German police.

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that 25 Catalan leaders would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state.

Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena also sent five separatist leaders to pre-trial jail. Their detention sparked protests across Catalonia.

German court appeal possible

It is not clear if Mr Puigdemont will be immediately extradited from Germany.

Mr Puigdemont had previously made clear his preference to fight the extradition process from Belgium, where the former Catalan leader was heading at the time of his detention, according to Mr Puigdemont’s spokesman, Joan Maria Pique.

“The president was going to Belgium to put himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice,” Mr Pique said.

The Spanish prosecutor’s office said on Sunday it was working closely with counterparts in Germany and EU agency Eurojust to provide all of the information needed to make the European arrest warrant for Mr Puigdemont effective.

The European arrest warrant system in place since 2004 makes it easier for EU countries to demand the extradition from other EU states of people wanted for crimes, and removes political decision-making from the process.

EU countries issue thousands of such warrants each year.

Mr Puidgemont could take his case to Germany’s highest court, which had in 2005 blocked the extradition to Spain on an EU arrest warrant of a German-Syrian al-Qaeda suspect.

The case of Mamoun Darkazanli sparked a judicial row between the two countries after Germany’s Federal Constitutional court refused to turn over Mr Darkazanli, saying that EU extradition laws designed to speed up the delivery of suspects between member states violated the rights of German citizens.

The Spanish Supreme Court had issued an international arrest warrant against Mr Puigdemont last year but withdrew it in December to avoid the risk of Belgian authorities granting him asylum.

Leaving Belgium had exposed him again to the risk of arrest.

Reuters/AP

More at ABCnews Melbourne

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont held by German police

German police have detained the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont under a European arrest warrant as he crossed from Denmark into Germany.

Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Brussels since October, was travelling in a car on the way from Finland to Belgium on Sunday when he was detained, having visited Finnish lawmakers in Helsinki.

On Friday the Spanish government reactivated an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who is wanted on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

Spain sent a request to the Finnish authorities to detain Puigdemont, who was on a visit to promote the Catalan independence cause. However, the request was written in Spanish and there was a delay while authorities in Madrid had it translated into English. In the meantime, Puigdemont left the country.

In a statement on Sunday, Puigdemont’s press officer said: “Carles Puigdemont has been detained in Germany as he crossed from Denmark en route to Belgium. He has been properly treated throughout and is right now in a police station. He was on his way to Belgium where he would be, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice.”

Ralph Döpper, a deputy general attorney at the state prosecutor in Schleswig-Holstein, told the Guardian he was currently investigating whether Puigdemont would be placed into extradition custody, and he would announce his preliminary findings on Monday morning. On Sunday afternoon Puigdemont was transferred to Neumünster prison in northern Schlewig-Holstein.

Citing “rumours within judicial circles”, the local newspaper Kieler Nachrichten reported that Puigdemont was considering applying for asylum in Germany. The paper added that the chances of an asylum application overriding the European arrest warrant were relatively slim.

News of the arrest sparked protests in Barcelona that turned violent, with three arrests and at least 52 people injured.

A crowd of several thousand people gathered outside the office of the European commission chanting “no more repression” and “general strike”. They later made their way to demonstrate outside the German consulate. There were also traffic go-slows on several main roads.

While the main demonstration passed off peacefully, several hundred protesters tried to break through police cordons around the seat of the Spanish government in the city. They were beaten back by baton charges.

There were also demonstrations in all four of Catalonia’s provincial capitals and major roads were blocked by sit-down protests amid a growing sense that the era of peaceful pro-independence demonstrations is over, despite appeals from the main secessionist parties for calm.

Puigdemont had covered 808 miles (1,300km) of the 1,243-mile car journey when he was stopped at 11.19am, apparently at a petrol station near Schuby on the A7 motorway, 31 miles into German territory, according to his lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas.

According to German media reports, the arrest was made following a tipoff from Spain’s intelligence agency to German federal police’s Sirene bureau, part of a network of information-sharing units for national police in the Schengen area.

Puigdemont could face up to 25 years in prison in Spain if convicted of charges of rebellion and sedition for organising an illegal referendum for Catalonia that led to a unilateral declaration of independence in October.

According to the rules of the European arrest warrant, Germany has up to 60 days to decide whether to extradite him to Spain. If Puigdemont surrenders to be prosecuted, the decision must be made within 10 days.

The international warrant, originally issued in November, was rescinded in December amid Spanish concerns that Belgium would not extradite Puigdemont for the more serious charges against him as they are not on the Belgian statute books.

Were he to be extradited only on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds, he could be tried only for that offence.

Germany can extradite suspects only if the alleged offence is also punishable under German law. There is no such crime as rebellion under German law, but there is a crime of high treason, defined as using force or the threat of force to undermine the constitutional order.

The Catalan unilateral declaration of independence was entirely peaceful, if unlawful, although Spanish authorities may argue there was an implicit threat of force. The crime of sedition was dropped from German law in the 1970s.

The arrest warrant was reactivated on Friday, as were similar warrants for other Catalan fugitives – Lluís Puig, Meritxell Serret and Toni Comín, who are all in Belgium, and Clara Ponsati, currently in Scotland where she is teaching at the University of St Andrews. Authorities in Scotland confirmed they had received the warrant, and Ponsati was said to be negotiating to turn herself in to police.

Warrants were also issued for the arrest of Marta Rovira, secretary general of the secessionist Republican Left party, and Anna Gabriel, of the radical Popular Unity Candidacy, both of whom have sought refuge in Switzerland.

On Friday a Spanish supreme court judge, Pablo Llarena remanded in custody Jordi Turull, the third and latest candidate for the vacant Catalan presidency, and four others, among them a former speaker of the Catalan parliament. They join Oriol Junqueras, leader of Republican Left, and three others already held on remand in Madrid jails.

Police are treating a graffiti attack outside a house that Llarena owns in Girona in northern Catalonia as an attempt at coercion. Catalan activists painted slogans in the road outside the house denouncing the judge as a “fascist”.

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