1 Nov 2017

Sacked Catalan leader 'not seeking asylum'

10:07 am on 1 November 2017

Catalonia's sacked president Carles Puigdemont is not seeking asylum in Belguim, he told a news conference in Brussels.

Spain's state prosecutor recommended charges for rebellion and sedition be brought against Mr Puigdemont after he declared independence from Spain last week.

Carles Puigdemont

Carles Puigdemont Photo: AFP

Appearing in public with other sacked ministers he said he would return to Catalonia when given "guarantees" by the Spanish government.

Mr Puigdemont said he was not trying to escape justice but wanted to be able to speak freely.

He said moves by the Spanish chief prosecutor to charge him and a number of other cabinet members with offences that carry up to 30 years in prison showed the extent of the central authorities' aggression.

Spain's central government has taken direct control of Catalonia and sacked officials following the region's banned independence referendum. Spain's constitutional court suspended the declaration of independence made by the Catalan leader on Friday.

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Hundreds of thousands of supporters of a unified Spain filled Barcelona's streets on Sunday in a show of force against Catalan independence. Photo: AFP

Earlier comments from a lawyer hired by Mr Puigdemont in Brussels had fuelled speculation that he was investigating asylum processes there.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Mr Puigdemont would be "treated like any other European citizen". "Freedom of movement within the Schengen zone allows him to be in Belgium without any other formalities."

Mr Puigdemont said he would accept the result of snap Catalonia elections on 21 December, which were called by Spain's central government after it invoked Article 155 of the constitution, temporarily suspending the region's autonomy.

The move will see as many as 150 of the region's top officials replaced.

"I want a clear commitment from the state. Will the state respect the results that could give separatist forces a majority?" Mr Puigdemont asked reporters.

The Spanish government has previously said he was welcome to take part in the fresh polls.

Mr Puigdemont's announcement that he would accept the regional election signalled the Madrid government had for now at least gained the upper hand in the protracted struggle over Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region that already had considerable autonomy.

In a separate development on Tuesday, Spain's Guardia Civil - a paramilitary force charged with police duties - raided the offices of the Catalan police force.

According to media reports, they searched eight offices for communications relating to the referendum on 1 October.

The Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has already been accused of failing to help Guardia Civil officers tackle thousands of pro-independence protesters during the run up to the banned vote.

- BBC / Reuters

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