Former Catalan separatist leader hands himself in as strike bites in Catalan region

Xinhua News Agency | Oct 18, 2019 at 3:20 PM

MADRID, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Former Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Friday handed himself in to authorities in Belgium in response to the reactivation of a Spanish international arrest warrant against him on Monday.

The warrant was issued by the Spanish Supreme Court after it sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years for sedition and misuse of funds linked to the Catalan independence referendum on Oct. 1, 2017, which was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

Puigdemont avoided trial by fleeing to Belgium at the end of October 2017. Although he was later detained in Germany, a German court refused to extradite him to face charges of "rebellion" given that no equivalent offence exists under German law.

The new warrant which was issued on Monday is for sedition and the misuse of public funds and does not include "rebellion".

"Puigdemont, accompanied by his lawyers, has appeared, voluntarily, before the Belgian authorities in response to the European arrest warrant issued by the Spanish Supreme Court," said a statement from his lawyers, adding that the former leader would oppose his extradition.

Puigdemont was later released without bail but under the condition that he informs authorities of any intention to leave Belgium.

Friday also saw a strike in the Catalan region in the northeast of Spain against the prison sentences handed out to the separatist leaders on Monday.

By midday on Friday, the strike has led to 57 flights being cancelled from Barcelona's El Prat airport, while Spanish state TV network RTVE informed of the complete closure of the ports of Barcelona and Tarragona.

Protestors have cut road and rail connections throughout the region, as well as blocking access to Barcelona's famous Sagrada Familia church. Most shops in Barcelona have also been closed for the day, along with public buildings such as libraries.

Thursday saw another night of violence in Barcelona with regional emergency services reporting at least 42 people being injured and the press informing of at least 11 more arrests to add to the 97 detentions made between Monday and Wednesday.

Acting Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska insisted on Thursday the government would not tolerate further violence in the region.

"You should have no doubt that we will continue to arrest those who behave violently, because there will be no impunity," said Marlaska, adding the violence was provoked by "very organized" people "related to movements which aim to disturb coexistence or attack public order with supposedly political aims."