Catalonia's Carles Puigdemont vows to remain in Brussels

Spain has dropped its international arrest warrant for Catalonia's deposed leader, but he will remain in Belgium. Pro-independence activists have organized a rally in Brussels to draw Europe into its independence fight.

Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Wednesday vowed to remain in exile in Brussels.

Spain dropped its international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Monday to avoid a lengthy extradition trial, saying it appeared that he and his former ministers were likely to return to Spain to contest the upcoming election in Catalonia.

Puigdemont told reporters he hoped to return to Spain if elected to Catalonia's parliament, but said he was unsure if he would be arrested.

"We have to carefully consider such a decision before taking it," Puigdemont said at a press conference in Brussels. "For the moment we will stay here."

Read more: Spain court revokes European arrest warrant for Catalonia's Carles Puigdemont

Spain fears losing case: Puigdemont

Puigdemont and four ex-cabinet members fled to Brussels shortly after they were sacked by the central government for calling an illegal referendum in October and declaring independence. They are due to face charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of funds.

Puigdemont claimed on Wednesday that Spain dropped the international warrant for fear of losing the extradition case.

"The Spanish state became scared of losing. This shows that we are facing a political cause and that the European warrant was a political fudge from the beginning," Puigdemont said.

Brussels rally

Pro-independence activists have called a rally in Brussels for Thursday to call for Europe's involvement in the issue.

The wife of jailed separatist activist Jordi Cuixart, who heads Omnium Cultural, told DW in Brussels that they were hoping for the support of European institutions.

"This is not (just) a domestic issue of Spain it is a domestic issue of Europe, because we are part of Europe. And we need our rights," Txell Bonet said.

Her husband Cuixart has been held since October on charges of sedition after his Omnium Cultural group allegedly urged supporters to take part in protests that hindered police in the run up to the referendum.

Bonet told DW they had a young child and that she had to travel hundreds of kilometers to visit him.

On Tuesday Omnium Cultural said in a statement that it considered "arbitrary and unfair" the decision by the Spanish Supreme Court judge to keep in Cuixart in custody along with three other jailed separatists, while freeing six Catalan politicians on bails of €100,000 ($118,000).

Organizers of Thursday's "Europe, Wake up!" have reportedly organized charter planes and busses to transport Catalans to the Belgian capital.

aw/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The declaration

As the world watched, Catalonia's parliament voted 70 to 10 for the region to declare its independence from Spain. "Our legitimate parliament has taken a very important step. This is the people's mandate," Puigdemont said after the decision. Dozens of opposition lawmakers from the Socialist Party, Citizens Party and Popular Party had walked out of the parliament chamber to boycott the vote.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The despair

Within an hour of the Catalan vote, the Spanish Senate in Madrid passed a bill to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The measure will allow the central government to suspend Catalonia's autonomy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would sack Catalonia’s government and set new regional elections for December 21.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The dismissal

European leaders were quick to condemn the independence declaration. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Union "doesn't need any more cracks," while EU Council President Donald Tusk said Madrid "remains our only interlocutor." Leaders in Germany, France, Italy and the UK voiced their support for Madrid. The US also chimed in, saying "Catalonia is an integral part of Spain."

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The dispute

Barcelona and Madrid had been in a standoff since 93 percent of voters opted for Catalan independence in an October 1 referendum marred by police violence. Spain said the poll was illegal and stressed the low voter turnout of 43 percent. It subsequently threatened to suspend the region's autonomy if Catalan leaders did not stop their drive for independence.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The defiance

Many had expected tensions to ease on October 26 when Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to call snap elections to bow to a key Spanish government demand. But Puigdemont refused, saying that he did not have enough "guarantees" from Madrid. Instead, he called on the Catalan parliament to decide on how to respond to Spain's threat to suspend the region's autonomy.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The dream

Tens of thousands of pro-independence protesters had taken to the streets of Barcelona ahead of the independence declaration to demand the region's secession and the release of two leaders of pro-independence organizations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. Independence has divided Catalonia. Many who supported continued unity with Spain refused to vote in the October 1 referendum.

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

The delight

The pro-independence crowds outside the Catalan parliament immediately rejoiced after hearing the independence declaration. Many people were draped in the "Estelada" flag associated with Catalan independence. Some reportedly called for the Spanish flag to be removed from the Catalan government palace as regional lawmakers arrived from the parliament. (Author: Alexander Pearson)