A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ousted leader a day after she jailed nine former members of the region’s separatist government.
Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont 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.
Mr Puigdemont is certain to fight extradition without seeking political asylum, according to his Belgian lawyer. Meanwhile, a panel of judges rejected an appeal to release two Catalan separatist activists who are part of the sedition probe.
A National Court spokesman said Assemblea Nacional Catalana president Jordi Sanchez and Omnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart will remain in a Madrid jail while the investigation continues. Lawyers had argued that the pair should be released because the political situation in Catalonia had changed since the probe began.
Madrid has been directly ruling the region since the regional parliament passed a declaration of independence on October 27. The regional government was removed from power and an early election was called for December 21.
Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural have spearheaded civil society efforts to achieve secession for the north-eastern region of 7.5 million. Mr Sanchez and Mr Cuixart are being investigated for allegedly orchestrating protests that hindered a judicial investigation to halt preparations for a banned independence referendum.
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 did not show up. Investigative magistrate Carmen Lamela jailed eight of nine Catalan ex-officials who appeared for questioning, including former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras, without bail.
The ninth, ex-regional minister for business Santi Vila, left Estremera prison after posting bail of 50,000 euros (£44,000) on Friday. His passport was confiscated and he needs to show up in court regularly as the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement probe continues.
Mr Vila resigned in protest a day before Catalonia’s parliament voted in favour of a declaration of independence. He spoke to reporters briefly outside the prison’s gate, where he urged prime minister Mariano Rajoy to find a political solution to the crisis.
Prosecutors also requested an international 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 in Catalonia. Several thousand people gathered on Thursday night in Barcelona and other towns to call for their release.
Mr Puigdemont and his cabinet were removed by Mr 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 an early regional election.
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 investigating six members of Catalonia’s parliament. The court postponed a hearing on Thursday until next week to allow more time for them to prepare their defence.
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.