March 28, 2018 / 12:07 PM / 4 months ago

Catalan parliament backs Puigdemont's right to again be president

MADRID (Reuters) - Catalonia’s parliament said on Wednesday it supported detained ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s right to again lead the region while he awaits a German court ruling on extraditing him to Spain for directing a banned independence campaign.

Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and former member of the Government of Catalonia Clara Ponsati attend a news conference at the Press Club Brussels Europe in Brussels, Belgium, October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

His arrest in Germany on Sunday threatens to worsen the crisis that flared last year when Catalonia unilaterally declared independence, prompting Madrid to dismiss Puigdemont’s governent and impose direct rule.

The separatist-controlled Catalan parliament’s purely symbolic declaration of support for Puigdemont shows how powerless pro-independence parties have become as the legal noose tightens around their leaders, who are almost all either in exile or behind bars ahead of trial.

Spain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday to try Puigdemont and 24 other Catalan leaders for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state for holding an October referendum on independence in Catalonia, deemed illegal by Spanish courts.

The court reactivated international arrest warrants for Puigdemont and four other politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year.

One of the four, Clara Ponsati, a former Catalan government member and now an academic in Scotland, turned herself in at a Edinburgh police station on Wednesday to fight her extradition.

Puigdemont’s arrest, after crossing into Germany from Denmark, triggered demonstrations on Barcelona’s streets on Sunday that left dozens injured in clashes with riot police. Protesters blockaded several motorways across Catalonia on Monday.

The Catalan parliament failed last week to elect a new president, as the hard-line separatist CUP party abstained, prolonging the region’s political limbo. The parliament now has two months to try again before it must call a regional election.

Separatist parties on Wednesday defended Puigdemont’s right to be a candidate to again head the Catalan government, but given his arrest in Germany that would be highly unlikely.

Spain’s Constitutional Court has said that Puigdemont or any other candidate could only become regional leader if he was physically present in parliament and had a judge’s permission to attend.

Wednesday’s declaration had the support of separatist parties Junts per Catalunya, Esquerra Republicana and the CUP, who together won a slim majority of votes in a December regional election.

“The Spanish justice system’s interference has forced him (Puigdemont) to provisionally renounce his candidacy but we will not give up,” Gemma Geis, regional parliament member of Junts per Catalunya, said.

Puigdemont could take his case to Germany’s highest court, which in 2005 blocked the extradition to Spain on an EU arrest warrant of a German-Syrian al-Qaeda suspect.

For now, he could remain in custody for up to 90 days while he awaits the German court’s decision.

Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Jesús Aguado; Editing by Angus Berwick and Angus MacSwan

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