Separatist Catalan ex-president says he won’t seek asylum in Belgium

Carles Puigdemont vows to continue campaigning for independence from Spain, calls for avoiding violence

Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont arrives for a press conference in Brussels, October 31, 2017. (AP/Olivier Matthys)
Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont arrives for a press conference in Brussels, October 31, 2017. (AP/Olivier Matthys)

Catalonia’s ousted president said Tuesday that he came to Belgium to act “in freedom and safety” and not to seek asylum.

Carles Puigdemont said he and his team will “continue our work despite the limits imposed on us” and that he was in Brussels because it is the capital of Europe.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels Puigdemont, also said that he would accept the challenge of regional elections called for December 21 “with all our strength” and that Catalan nationalists would vote.

Spain wants Catalonia “to abandon our political project, and they won’t achieve it,” he said.

There was speculation that Puigdemont might request political asylum in Belgium. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials, including the ex-regional leader.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren’t extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.

Puigdemont called for avoiding violence and said dialogue is a priority, during his first address on Belgian soil. He recapped the issues that led him to leave for Belgium the previous day, but did not immediately say in his statement what he would do in Brussels or whether he would seek asylum. He was to answer questions at a packed conference room close to EU headquarters later.

“We can’t build a republic for all on violence,” he told reporters adding that if that meant “slowing down the development of the republic, then we must consider that a reasonable price to pay.”

A Catalonia independence supporter wearing the Estelada flag stamped on his T-shirt chants against the Spanish State outside the Catalan government’s Generalitat building in Barcelona, Spain, October 30, 2017. (AP/Gonzalo Arroyo)

Earlier Spain’s Supreme Court said it will investigate six ex-members of the governing body of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament for possible charges following the parliament’s declaration of independence last week following a referendum called by Puigdemont.

The six include ex-speaker of the parliament Carme Forcadell, one of the leading activists of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement for many years.

The ruling Tuesday came a day after Spain’s chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza announced he was seeking charges.

Rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison.

Maza is also seeking similar charges against Puigdemont, and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras. The court said the case would be handled by Judge Pablo Llarena Conde.

One of Catalonia’s main separatist civil society groups said that while it considers that Spain “illegitimately” called the early regional election, it’s an opportunity to get a mandate to “ratify the republic.”

The Assemblea Nacional Catalan, or ANC, which only recognizes an independent Catalan republic, made the comments in a statement, after its leaders held a meeting late Monday.

The ANC said that elections to be held in December can’t be considered to have full democratic guarantees because they were “illegitimately called by the government in Madrid” and because two activists are in jail pending sedition charges, including ANC leader Jordi Sanchez.

But the statement said that grassroots organizations need to prepare a “joint strategy” before the regional election with the goal of “obtaining an uncontested victory that will ratify the Republic.”

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