After an international arrest warrant against him was dropped, ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont returned to Belgium from Germany. The ousted leader vowed to continue fighting for Catalonia's independence from Spain.
Carles Puigdemont left Germany for Belgium on Saturday after an attempt by Spanish authorities to extradite the ousted former president of Catalonia failed.
Speaking at the offices of Catalonia's delegation in Brussels, Puigdemont said he would continue working towards Catalonia's independence from Spain.
"This is not the end of the journey," he said at a joint press conference alongside Catalonia's current regional leader, Quim Torra.
"I will travel to the last corner of Europe to defend the just cause of the Catalan people," he added.
Puigdemont plans on setting up a council to try and gain international support for Catalonia's separatists, as well as an assembly that will work in parallel with the region's current government.
The 55-year-old is currently wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion, which carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, as well as misuse of public funds.
He fled to Belgium last October after the Spanish government imposed direct rule on Catalonia over the regional government's unilateral declaration of independence. The declaration was preceded by a referendum that was banned by Spain's court and marred by police violence.
He was arrested in March at a gas station in northern Germany while he was returning to Belgium after a trip to Finland.
A German court ruled earlier this month that Puigdemont could only be extradited on charges of misusing public funds, but not for rebellion. The latter charge is not recognized under German law.
Spanish authorities dropped their international arrest warrant against Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists after the German court's decision. Under European law, Spain would have only been allowed to try him for misuse of public funds and not rebellion.
Tensions between Barcelona and Madrid have relaxed somewhat in recent weeks after socialist Pedro Sanchez replaced conservative Mariano Rajoy as prime minister of Spain.
Sanchez recently began negotiations with Catalonia's new leader, Torra, although he ruled out allowing any referendums on independence, saying they are unconstitutional.
Like Puigdemont, five other leading members of the separatist government fled Spain following October's banned referendum and are currently in Belgium, Switzerland and Scotland.
Nine other former regional government members and civil group leaders are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges including rebellion, disobedience and misuse of public funds.
rs/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)