Catalan independence: Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, lawyer says

Catalan independence: Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, lawyer says

BY BBC NEWS,31ST OCT 2017-Sacked Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has gone to Belgium, a lawyer he has hired there says.

The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said he had not gone into hiding and did not confirm whether he would seek asylum.

Spain’s chief prosecutor has called for rebellion charges to be brought against him and other organisers of Catalonia’s banned independence referendum.

The Spanish central government took direct control of Catalonia on Monday, replacing sacked officials.

It suspended the region’s autonomy and called for fresh elections after Mr Puigdemont and his government declared independence last week.

On Tuesday, Spain’s Guardia Civil – a paramilitary force charged with police duties – raided the offices of the Catalan police force.

According to media reports, they searched eight offices for communications relating to the referendum on 1 October.

The Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has already been accused of failing to help Guardia Civil officers tackle thousands of pro-independence protesters during the run up to the banned vote.

What is Mr Puigdemont doing in Belgium?

Mr Bekaert said Mr Puigdemont was now in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

“He has full rights to be here, there is nothing against him at this moment,” he told Flemish public radio.

Asked whether the Catalan leader was planning to seek asylum in Belgium he added: “We’re keeping all options open – nothing has been decided.”

Theo Francken, Belgium’s immigration minister, said over the weekend that an asylum application was “not unrealistic” but Prime Minister Charles Michel later said it was “absolutely not on the agenda”.

Mr Francken, a member of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party, said last week that Catalan ministers could apply for political asylum in Belgium, adding that he had doubts over whether Mr Puigdemont and others would get a fair trial in Spain.

Political commentators in Belgium have suggested that Mr Francken’s earlier comments could be seen as an invitation to former Catalan members of parliament to seek asylum in the country.

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