Catalonia’s ex-president, Carles Puigmont, along with four other Catalan officials turned themselves in to the Belgian police. They will go before a judge who will have to decide if executing arrest warrants or imposing bail requirements.

The officials are sought by Spanish authorities. However, they decided to surrender to the Belgian authorities at 9:17 a.m. on Sunday. Catalonia dismissed leader, Carles Puigdemont, said on Saturday that he and the other Catalan officials are not fleeing the Spanish court system but that they are seeking support from the region and that they are ready to cooperate with the Belgian authorities.

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Puigdemont expects to gather support from other European countries. Image credit: AFP

“Prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain”, twitted Puigdemont on Saturday.

Spain is facing one of its worst political crisis

The pro-independence movement in Catalonia has turned into one of the worst nightmares of Spain. The Catalan leaders  guided by Puigdemont  decided to promote a referendum to determine whether or not they would remain in Spain. Tough the poll was not approved by the Spanish supreme courts, the Catalan Government led by Carles Puigdemont, decided to carry out the referendum anyways on October 1st, 2017.

According to the results, 90 percent of the voters chose to be independent (there was 41.5 percent of participation). Because of that, the Catalan parliament declared the independence of Catalonia unilaterally.

The process was unconstitutional according to the central government in Madrid, and therefore, they decided to remove Catalonia’s autonomy, taking all the functions from the regional government. The Catalan parliament was dissolved. As well, the top Catalan officials were dismissed, and in some cases, they were asked to turn in to the Spanish authorities. The government in Madrid has called for elections in Catalonia on December 21st.

Puigdemont along with other important Catalan pro-independence ex-officials  Toni Comin, Clara Ponsati, Lluis Puig and Meritxell Serret  decided to flee Spain to find help in Belgium. Today they turned in to the Belgian authorities with the presence of their lawyers.

Puigdemont, who believes to be the rightful leader of the region, said they are not trying to escape the Spanish justice, but instead they are trying to get the European support.

Carmen Lamela, a judge in Spain’s National Court, asked Belgium to arrest the former officials including Puigdemont because they ignored an order submitted by the Spanish courts that demanded 13 Catalan ministers to appear before a judge Thursday. In Spain, they want to charge them for sedition, rebellion, misuse of funds, disobedience, breach of trust, abuse of authority and contempt

While all this happens, it is important to note that a Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday. The day before, eight members of the former Catalan parliament were arrested in Spain. Another one showed up to the courts but was released on bond. Puigdemont said the actions taken by the Spanish courts were an “attack against democracy.”

What comes next

The four ministers and Puigdemont will have to appear and declare before a judge on Sunday afternoon. This judge will have to decide on Monday what the next step is. According to Gilles Dejemeppe, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, the judge could execute arrest warrants against them  just as Spain asked them to do  or the official could choose to impose bail requirements.

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The Belgium judge has to decide if Puigdemont and the other Catalan former leaders are to be arrested. Image credit: Reuters

If the judge decides to issue arrest warrants, then it must also be determined if the Catalan officials will be held or released and under what circumstances and conditions.  There is a period of 15 days after the arrest warrant issues, to decide whether or not it will be executed.

The parties involved can appeal the decision, which is decided in 15-days period, and then they could also appeal to a higher court, also to be ruled on within 15 days. The Belgian authorities will have to inform Spain if the arrest warrants cannot be executed after 90 days.

According to the GAP3 survey, 59 percent of Catalans believe that taking legal actions against Puigdemot is not justified. Similarly, 69.3 percent of the interviewed said that jailing former Catalan officials will boost the cause of the independence in the ballot box.

It is still left to know what is going to happen next December 21st. According to two polls made on Sunday, the pro-independence parties of Catalonia will achieve a victory in the elections; however, they might not be able to accomplish a majority of seats in the parliament to continue the secessionist movement.

One of this polls, published in La Vanguardia newspaper, suggests that the pro-independence parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in the 135-seat parliament. These estimates were somewhat echoed on the poll published by the conservative newspaper La Razon.

Experts estimate that the voter participation will rise to 83 percent in the forthcoming elections. Puigdemont recently said that he would lead the party in the elections.

Source: Reuters