Ex-Catalan leader returns to Belgium from Germany after failed extradition
Carles Puigdemont is in Belgium to drum up support for Catalonia's separatist movement
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont returned to Belgium Saturday to drum up support for Catalonia's separatist movement after Spain's bid to extradite him on rebellion charges from Germany failed.
On arriving to Brussels, Puigdemont shook hands with other former members of his Cabinet who also fled Spain, as well as the current regional president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, who had traveled from Spain to meet his predecessor.
Puigdemont said he will continue to travel around Europe in an attempt to explain the separatist position in wealthy Catalonia, which has so far failed to garner any support from European governments or major political parties.
"I have to continue doing my duty of fighting for fundamental rights denied by Spain," Puigdemont said, while adding he has yet to plan his next move.
A failed extradition
Puigdemont fled Spain in October following an illegal and ineffective declaration of independence by secessionist lawmakers in northeastern Catalonia.
He had been in Germany since March when he was arrested on a Spanish warrant while traveling by car from Finland back to Belgium.
But a Spanish judge withdrew the international warrant for Puigdemont and five other fugitive separatists after a German court refused to extradite him for rebellion.
Puigdemont can be arrested, however, if he returns to Spain.
He will now return to a residence he established in a house in the Belgian town of Waterloo.
Spain's new government
Spain has undergone a change in government since the Catalan political crisis exploded last year after conservative leader Mariano Rajoy lost a vote of confidence in June.
Since then, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has met with Torra in an attempt to relax tensions between Madrid and Barcelona.
"We are all waiting to hear Pedro Sanchez's answer to what he has recognized as a political problem," Puigdemont said. "What is his response to the demand of self-determination of Catalonia?"
Puigdemont and Torra used the joint press conference at a Catalan government office in Brussels to demand the release from preventative jail of nine separatist leaders who are awaiting trial for rebellion and other charges in Spain.
A country divided
Polls and recent elections show that the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia are evenly divided over the question of breaking century-old ties with the rest of Spain.
Spain's Constitution says the nation is indivisible and that its sovereignty resides in its national parliament, not in their regional legislatures.
Catalan separatists hold seats in the Madrid parliament but have failed to make a serious bid to build the support needed to reform the Constitution.