German court orders ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont held in custody

A German court has ruled that Catalonia’s former pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont must remain in custody pending his possible extradition to Spain, where he is wanted on “rebellion” charges.

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Puigdemont will “remain in detention for the time being, until a decision is made concerning the extradition procedure,” the regional court in Kiel, northern Germany, announced late on Monday, a day after Puigdemont was arrested.

The former Catalan leader’s detention in Germany, which sparked angry protests back in Catalonia, comes five months after he went on the run as Spanish prosecutors sought to charge him with sedition and rebellion in the wake of a vote by the Catalan parliament to declare independence.

The court in northern Germany turned down a request from Puigdemont’s legal team for him to be released pending the extradition decision by German authorities.

He was arrested on Sunday after he crossed the border into Germany from Denmark, under a European warrant issued by Spain.

According to Puigdemont’s lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, he was on his way back to Belgium, where he fled after Spanish authorities moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia.

A decision on extradition must normally be made within 60 days under German law. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office for Schleswig-Holstein state told AFP it would “probably not come this week” ahead of the four-day Easter holiday.

Puigdemont’s detention marks the latest chapter in a secession saga that has bitterly divided Catalans and triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

It lands an unwanted diplomatic hot potato in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lap less than two weeks after her new government was sworn in.

Her spokesman insisted Monday that the decision on Puigdemont’s extradition rested solely in the hands of the German regional justice authorities.

Protests in Barcelona

Spain’s deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria has welcomed the arrest as “good news”.

“We are all equal before the law and no one can make a mockery of the courts forever,” she said.

However, in Barcelona on Sunday Catalan police decked out in riot gear clashed with protesters who were advancing on the office of the Spanish government’s representative.

Officers fired warning shots in the air to try to contain the demonstrators, who pushed large recycling containers towards police.

About 90 people were slightly injured during the protests, including 22 police officers, emergency services said.

Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent appealed for calm in an address broadcast on regional television.

“I have no doubt that Catalan society will act as it always has, with non-violence,” he said.

Aside from Puigdemont, nine other Catalan separatist leaders are in jail in Spain over the region’s failed bid for independence.

His arrest came two days after Spain’s supreme court issued international arrest warrants for 13 Catalan separatists including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull.

The court said they would be prosecuted for “rebellion”, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

‘Revenge and repression’

Puigdemont had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the country before Finnish police could detain him.

Elsa Artadi, a lawmaker with Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said he should fight his extradition.

“Spain does not guarantee a fair trial; only revenge and repression,” she wrote on Twitter.

While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections which were called by Madrid in December, they have been unable to elect a president and form a government as they have picked candidates who are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.

After Puigdemont was forced to withdraw his bid for the presidency as he could not return to Spain without facing arrest, another pro-independence leader Jordi Sanchez followed suit when a judge refused to let him out of jail to be sworn in. The third candidate, Turull, was placed in custody on Friday.

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)