Catalan leader who declared ‘I am not afraid’ of arrest reportedly fled Spain

Carles Puigdemont arriving to deliver a statement at the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday.

caption
Carles Puigdemont arriving to deliver a statement at the regional government headquarters in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday.
source
REUTERS/Yves Herman

    After declaring Catalonia’s independence last week and being removed from office, the sacked leader Carles Puigdemont has turned up in Belgium. Spain sacked the Catalan government on Friday and has since announced charges of rebellion against Puigdemont and 13 of his colleagues. Puigdemont previously declared “I am not afraid” of being arrested for organizing Catalonia’s banned independence referendum. Now that he is in Belgium, he may seek asylum.

The sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont left Spain late Monday.

Puigdemont arrived in Brussels, according to The New York Times, in a dramatic move for the regional leader who, when asked earlier this month about a possible arrest, said, “Personally, I am not afraid of that.”

Puigdemont led Catalonia’s independence referendum before making a declaration of independence last week. In response, Spain’s government invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution on Friday to take direct control of Catalonia. Puigdemont and the region’s entire parliament were sacked.

It was the first time Spain had invoked direct rule.

Puigdemont’s reported departure came just hours after Spain’s attorney general announced numerous charges, including rebellion, against Puigdemont and 13 other Catalan politicians. Rebellion carries a possible sentence of 30 years.

The Times reported that Puigdemont hired Paul Bekaert, a lawyer who described himself as having “experience in extradition and political asylum,” and said Puigdemont may seek asylum in Belgium.

Brussels is home to the headquarters of the European Union, which would place Belgium in a difficult position if Puigdemont did seek asylum. The EU was largely silent during Catalonia’s push for independence.

Puigdemont is expected to give a speech from Brussels on Tuesday.