Carles Puigdemont says he’ll cooperate with Belgian courts
Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said Friday he would cooperate with the Belgian justice system but could not get a fair trial in Spain, which issued an international warrant for his arrest.
In his first interview since he arrived in Brussels on Monday, Puigdemont also condemned the Spanish authorities as “extremely barbaric” and said he was ready to stand in the December 21 Catalan election called by the central government, which took direct control of Catalonia after the region’s parliament declared independence last week.
“All of us who led this process have to be committed to this cause, especially if there is even the smallest chance that we can all move forward together,” he told Belgian public television station RTBF.
A years-long power struggle between pro-independence leaders in the northeastern region and the Spanish government came to a head last month, when the Catalan administration organized a referendum on secession that had been ruled illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Madrid deployed police in an effort to stop people taking part in the plebiscite.
Puigdemont declared that his administration, sacked by Madrid as part of its direct-rule measures, remained “the legitimate government of Catalonia.” He said he could campaign in the election from Belgium as “we live in a globalized world.”
The 54-year-old Puigdemont traveled to Belgium on the same day that Spain’s attorney general announced he had been charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds over the regional government’s independence drive.
Puigdemont insisted he had not fled the country but simply traveled to the capital of the European Union to draw global attention to the Catalan crisis. However, he said there was no guarantee of a fair trial back in Spain, where a judge issued an international warrant for his arrest on Friday after he failed to heed a court summons.
“I will not flee from justice. I will go towards justice, but real justice,” Puigdemont said. “I’ve told my lawyers to tell the Belgian justice system that I’m completely available to cooperate.”
Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has made clear he will exhaust every legal avenue in an effort to fight Spain’s extradition request.
“It’s obvious it’s politicized,” Puigdemont said of the Spanish justice system. “The guarantees are not there for a fair, independent trial,” he declared, saying there was “enormous influence of politics over the judiciary in Spain.”
As evidence for his assertion, Puigdemont cited the fact that eight members of his government had been sent to jail pending trial, without the possibility of bail. He said they had been given less than 24 hours’ notice to appear in court and their lawyers had been given only the same amount of time to familiarize themselves with the charges.
“It’s not normal to have the leaders of cultural and pacifist citizens’ groups in prison,” he said. “It’s not normal that all of us risk 30 years in prison — 30 years! — for having kept our commitment to the voters … It’s something extremely barbaric. You can’t talk about democracy if you have to play according to those rules.”
Nevertheless, Puigdemont said he was open to dialogue with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
“Mariano Rajoy has never put dialogue first, “he said. “He has used the police, violence … to get what he wanted. He should try using politics instead.”
Asked if he would request asylum, Puigdemont replied: “I’m not here to ask for political asylum in Belgium, I’m here to defend a legitimate government.”
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