(BBG) Catalan Leader Flees to Brussels, Presses for Freedom
Spain’s plan to dampen support for independence in Catalonia is being buffeted by a court decision to jail leading members of the separatist campaign.
The National Court in Madrid ruled Friday that two leading activists should remain in prison while they are investigated on potential charges of sedition after jailing eight former members of the Catalan government the previous day. The court may also later issue an international arrest warrant for self-exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
“The attitude of the government has always been to respect and enforce judicial decisions,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo, the government’s chief spokesman, said during a televised briefing in Madrid. “Sometimes you agree with them, and other times you don’t.”
The judicial crackdown may be undermining Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s attempts to weaken the independence campaign after he seized direct control of the regional administration last week. Activists in Barcelona were left angry, leaderless and divided when Puigdemont bolted following the intervention and Rajoy was looking to capitalize on the disarray in regional elections next month.
But the campaign has now been reinvigorated by seeing the politicians jailed and plans have been revived for a joint election list to maximize their representation in the regional parliament. Puigdemont sounded a defiant tone on Friday as he said he would submit to justice as long as it wasn’t the Spanish kind.
“I won’t flee justice, I’ll willing to submit to justice, but to real justice,” the ousted leader said in an interview with Belgium’s RTBF television. He said the Spanish courts “can’t guarantee a fair and independent sentence that will be free of the enormous weight and influence of politics.”
The National Court still hasn’t decided whether to issue an arrest warrant for Puigdemont. Mendez de Vigo earlier on Friday incorrectly stated that the order had already been issued when he spoke at his weekly briefing.
Catalan demonstrators blocked international posts on the borders with France and Andorra and picketed highways in the region in protest at the court decision.
With Catalonian regional elections called for a few days before Christmas, a poll published Thursday by the El Espanol news website suggested that pro-independence candidates are set to win 68 seats, the minimum for a majority in the 135-seat assembly.
While the European Union and governments around the world have refused to respond to separatist appeals, the latest move by the courts is focusing international attention on Spain’s efforts to shut down the movement.
“The disagreement about Catalonia’s future is political,” Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and head of the semi-autonomous government, said on Twitter. “It should be resolved democratically – not by the jailing of political opponents.”