Friday 23 August 2019

Jailed Catalan leader released on bail as possibility of international arrest warrant for Puigdemont lingers

A man holds up an
A man holds up an "esteladas", or Catalonia independence flag, in front of a Spanish national police officer outside the National Court in Madrid, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. A Spanish judge has ordered nine ex-members of the government in Catalonia jailed while they are investigated on possible charges of sedition, rebellion and embezzlement. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Newsdesk Newsdesk

Jailed Catalonia leader Santi Vila, among the nine Catalan leaders ordered to be held in custody on Thursday pending a potential trial over the region's independence drive, was free to leave jail after paying bail, a court document showed.

Vila, who stepped down from the Catalan cabinet before a unilateral declaration of independence last Friday and has since been pushing for a negotiated solution with the government, was granted bail of 50,000 euros on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a Spanish judge is deliberating on whether to issue an international arrest warrant for Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont.

Catalan's ex-president flew to Brussels this week after Spanish authorities removed him and his 13-member Cabinet from office for pushing ahead with secession despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.

If an arrest warrant is issued, Mr Puigdemont will fight extradition without seeking political asylum, according to his Belgian lawyer.

A panel of National Court judges will also consider on Friday an appeal to release two separatist activists who were jailed last month in a sedition investigation.

Mr Puigdemont was due to appear at Spain's National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion case brought by Spanish prosecutors, but he failed to turn up.

On Thursday, investigative magistrate Carmen Lamela sent Catalan ex-vice president Oriol Junqueras and seven other former regional ministers to jail without bail.

Vila was held in lieu of 50,000 euros bail, which has now been paid.

Prosecutors also requested an international arrest warrant seeking Mr Puigdemont's arrest. Under Spain's legal system, investigating judges can have suspects detained while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if they should be charged.

The jailing of the former Catalan government officials set off a new round of protests back in north-eastern Catalonia. Several thousand people gathered in the main city of Barcelona and other towns on Thursday night to call for their release.

Mr Puigdemont and his Cabinet were removed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week, a day after the Catalan parliament voted in favour of a declaration of independence. Mr Rajoy used extraordinary powers given to him by the Senate to depose the separatists, dissolve the regional legislature and call a regional election for December 21.

Mr Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there. He and four of the officials remained in Brussels on Thursday.

Spain's Supreme Court is also investigating six members of Catalonia's parliament. In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Catalan secession push is the worst institutional crisis to hit Spain in nearly four decades.

Spain's central bank said on Thursday that a protracted political conflict could damage Spain's, and especially Catalonia's, economy. More than 1,000 companies have already relocated their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain because of the uncertainty.

Spain's Ministry of Employment and Social Security said on Friday that Catalonia led Spain's 17 autonomous communities in job losses in October with nearly 15,000 more people out of work.

PA Media

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