Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont evades capture in Finland, heads to Belgium | News | DW | 24.03.2018
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Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont evades capture in Finland, heads to Belgium

The political conflict between Catalonia and Spain has been reignited, after 13 Catalan leaders were arrested. The ex-Catalan premier was almost detained in Finland, when authorities accepted Spain's warrant against him.

Carles Puigdemont on his visit to Finland on Friday March 23 (picture-alliance/Lehtikuva/M. Ulander)

Carles Puigdemont on his visit to Finland on Friday March 23

Police authorities in Finland said on Saturday that they would fulfill the European arrest warrant issued by Spain against Carles Puigdemont, but the ex Catalan leader managed to return to Belgium before he could be detained, Finnish MP Mikko Karna confirmed. 

The situation arose in the midst of fresh tensions between Spain and its autonomous region, after 13 Catalan politicians were arrested on Friday.

Puigdemont is living in Belgium, but had traveled to Finland on Thursday to meet with lawmakers from the Nordic country before returning on Saturday.

The ex-Catalan president and organizer of the region's controversial independence vote, is being sought by Spain on charges of "rebellion" and "sedition."

Read more: Opinion: Puigdemont and his Catalan disappearing act

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) confirmed in a statement on Saturday that on receiving the European arrest warrant, they had moved to handle Puigdemont's case as a "a normal extradition procedure" but that his location was unknown to authorities at the time.

Mikko Karna and Carles Puigdemont (picture-alliance/Lehtikuva/M. Kainulainen)

Mikko Karna and Carles Puigdemont in Helsinki after meeting on Thursday

MP Mikko Karna, who had organized Puigdemont's visit, criticized the Finnish authorities, saying that from his point of view Finland could not extradite the Catalan politician back to Spain. "He has not committed an act of violence and the charges of rebellion are completely illogical," Karna argued.

Later, the lawmaker posted a statement on Twitter confirming that Puigdemont had left for Belgium on Friday "by unknown means."

Catalan Parliament in crisis

On Saturday, the speaker of Catalonia's parliament, Roger Torrent, suspended a vote to elect jailed separatist leader Jordi Turull as the new regional president of the autonomous region. Turull was one of five high-profile separatists jailed by Spanish authorities on Friday, on charges of rebellion.

Separatist parties, which hold a majority in the Catalan Parliament, have not been able to form a government or choose a new president for the region, due to internal divisions and the pressure of political conflict with Madrid.

Read more: Opinion: After Catalan elections, it's back to the drawing board

Spain's government and Catalan anti-independence parties had urged speaker Torrent to suspend Saturday's session, due to Turull's absence. Instead, Torrent chose to carry out the parliamentary session, albeit without a vote, to send a political message and in support of the detained Catalan leaders. 

The separatist parties denounced what they considered to be the heavy hand of Spanish law. "Yesterday the Spanish state didn't imprison five good people. It imprisoned 2 million people and spat in their faces," said Sergi Sabria of the Republican Left, citing the number of voters who supported pro-independence parties in the parliamentary elections on December 2017.

Ines Arrimadas, leader of the single party which attracted most votes in the Parliament, Ciudadanos, asked the pro independence parties to think not only of their own voters. "You have generated worry, fear, indignation and shame for what is happening in Catalonia," Arrimadas decried.

Read more:Catalonia fails to vote in new president as third pro-independence candidate loses secessionist support 

The Catalan parliament's failure to elect a new regional leader has triggered a two-month countdown. If the pro-independence majority is unable to elect a leader by then, Catalonia will have to have to hold parliamentary elections again.

jcg/jm (AP, Reuters, EFE)

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