Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont arrested in Italy

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MADRID – Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of the Spanish region of Catalonia, was arrested by Italian police on Thursday evening on the island of Sardinia, his office said in a statement, on an arrest warrant issued by the highest Spanish court for sedition.

Mr Puigdemont, a member of the European Parliament, had traveled to the Sardinian town of Alghero from Brussels, where he fled to avoid charges first laid in 2017.

He had traveled to Sardinia to attend a festival of Catalan popular culture known as the Adifolk Conference, according to the statement from his office. Upon arrival at the airport, he was arrested by Italian police.

He faces trial in Spain for his leading role in an unsuccessful attempt to declare an independent state in Catalonia in the fall of 2017, following a referendum that the Spanish government and courts had declared illegal to hold .

In March this year, the European Parliament withdrew his immunity, a decision he has fought against in court. In July, a European court rejected a request to restore his immunity. .

Josep Costa, a lawyer working with Mr Puigdemont, said on Twitter that he expected his client to be released soon.

“Shame will remain on Spain for history,” he wrote.

The Spanish government made no immediate comment on the arrest.

The arrest will undoubtedly add further turbulence to a renewed effort to end Spain’s territorial dispute over Catalonia. Just last week, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met with his regional counterpart, Pere Aragonès, in Barcelona to discuss the plight of the troubled region.

Among the demands of Mr. Aragonès is a call for a general amnesty for people imprisoned or facing charges related to the 2017 attempt at independence. At the top of the list for many, Mr. Puigdemont.

In June, Sánchez pardoned the nine pro-independence activists who had received long sentences for sedition. But Spain says it cannot offer Mr Puigdemont any pardon until he is tried.

The separatist conflict continues to be one of the most controversial political issues in Spain.

In 2017, while Mr Puigdemont was regional leader, the Catalan government held an independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish government and its courts, which had declared voting illegal. The police confiscated ballots and even beat people who were trying to vote.

Once the central government took control of the region and it became apparent that charges of sedition were in sight, Mr Puigdemont fled Spain and was declared a fugitive.

The arrest was good news for Spain’s conservative politicians, who applauded Thursday night.

“Puigdemont must be tried in Spain for his strike against constitutional legality, and Sánchez must commit to respecting the judgment of justice without pardon,” said Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party.

Spain has repeatedly failed in its attempts to extradite Mr. Puigdemont, both from Belgium where he has resided since late 2017, and also from Germany, where he was briefly detained in 2018. A German court ordered his release after rejecting Spain’s extradition request.

La Nuova Sardegna, a local Sardinian newspaper, reported on Wednesday that Mr Puigdemont would be a surprise guest at the folk festival in Alghero, a town with deep Catalan roots.

According to Italian media, Puigdemont also confirmed that he would attend the Corona de Logu this weekend, an assembly of local movements supporting Sardinia’s independence from Italy.

A spokesperson for the Sardinia region said authorities arrested Mr Puigdemont just as he got off the plane at Alghero-Fertilia airport on Thursday.

Jason Horowitz has contributed reporting from Treviso, Italy, and Raphael Minder from Madrid.


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