Buenos Aires Times

world Political exile continues

Ex-Catalan PM tests limits of exile with Denmark visit

As Catalonia's political crisis continues to drag on, the ousted leader of the regional government travels to Denmark, as Spanish judge refuses to reinstate European Union arrest warrant.

Monday 22 January, 2018
Ousted former prime minister of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont arrives in Copenhagen this morning.
Ousted former prime minister of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont arrives in Copenhagen this morning. Foto:Tariq Mikkel Khan/Ritzau Scanpix via AP

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The fugitive ex-president of Spain's Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, left his self-exile in Belgium and visited Denmark unimpeded Monday after a Spanish judge refused to ask Danish authorities to arrest him.

Puigdemont's journey, which included attending a university debate and meeting Danish lawmakers, came nearly three months after he was removed from office and fled to Belgium. A warrant for his arrest remains open in Spain.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena rejected a petition from Spain's top prosecutor to issue a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont, saying the former Catalan leader was trying to "provoke his arrest overseas" with his planned trip to Copenhagen.

"Facing the legal impossibility to be elected without being present at the Parliament, provoking his arrest overseas seeks to equip him with a justification that his absence is not a free decision as a fugitive, but the consequence of a situation that has been imposed on him," Llarena wrote in his decision rejecting the prosecutor's request to re-activate a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont.

Spain's foreign minister says that "for the moment" ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is free to move in Europe outside of Spain, adding that his arrest was a matter for judges to decide.

Puigdemont attended a debate at the University of Copenhagen titled "Catalonia and Europe at a Crossroads for Democracy. "If Catalans can't change their laws and leaders, that means there is no democracy in Catalonia," he told a crowded auditorium. Puigdemont also spoke about an upcoming constitutional referendum in the Faeroe Islands, a semi-autonomous Danish territory.

The trip was Puigdemont's first outside Belgium since he fled there to avoid a court summons in Spain for his role in an illegal— and unsuccessful— secession bid led by his government in October. Spain is investigating Puigdemont for possible rebellion, sedition and embezzlement linked to a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia's Parliament on October 27.

Madrid issued a European warrant for Puigdemont's arrest in November but withdrew it after a month based on concerns that Brussels would send the Catalan politician back while restricting the crimes with which he could be charged.

Puigdemont's trip comes while he is trying to be reinstated as the regional president of Catalonia. Spain's prime minister removed Puigdemont and his Cabinet from office and dissolved Catalonia's parliament as part of a crackdown on the separatist push, but pro-secession political parties won the most seats in the December election for a new parliament, which must form a government by the end of the month.

Catalan Parliament Speaker Roger Torrent proposed fugitive ex-leader Puigdemont as the majority's candidate to form a government. Torrent said Puigdemont is the only candidate with enough backing to attempt a government following regional elections last month, and that he has written asking Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to meet and talk about the "abnormal situation" in Catalonia.

But it remains unclear how Puigdemont could be sworn in again as regional president without returning to Spain and therefore putting himself open to likely arrest. The Spanish government has vowed to impede Puigdemont's reinstatement with court challenges, if necessary, and to keep direct control over the region until a new government takes over.

The Catalan Parliament has not set a date for the investiture vote, but the deadline is Jan. 31st.

-TIMES/AP

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