25.03.2018 - 23:52
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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