Catalonia's ex-president to speak in Brussels as asylum rumours grow

Catalonia’s ousted regional president will hold a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, European officials said, as speculation mounts that he might seek political asylum in Belgium and try to avoid possible prosecution in Spain for declaring Catalan independence.

Carles Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against him and other Catalan officials.

European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Puigdemont would speak publicly in Brussels at midday.

Over the weekend, a Belgian government official said it wouldn’t be “unrealistic” for Puigdemont to request asylum.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the central government in Madrid would be surprised if Puigdemont sought asylum in Belgium and were granted protection.

Dastis told Spain’s Cadena SER radio there is a level of “reciprocal trust” about the rule of law among members of the European Union.

“It would be surprising that he could receive the right to asylum under the current circumstances,” Dastis said.

He said the acceptance of an asylum petition “would not be a situation of normality” in relations between the two countries.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren’t extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.

SPAIN-POLITICS/CATALONIA

Catalonia’s sacked president, Carles Puigdemont, leaves a restaurant the day after the regional parliament declared independence from Spain last weekend. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

Spain took control over prosperous northeastern Catalonia last weekend after Puigdemont led the regional parliament to proclaim a new republic on Friday.

The Spanish government immediately sacked him and his cabinet, dissolved the regional parliament and called a new Catalan election for Dec. 21.

One of the main separatist civil society groups of Catalonia, the National Catalan Assembly, said Tuesday it accepted the regional election, despite the fact it was called under the Spanish government’s intervention.

The group, whose leader is in jail on provisional sedition charges, is not a political party but has been the driving civic force behind the independence movement in recent years.

It said grassroots organizations need to prepare a “joint strategy” ahead of the elections with the goal of “obtaining an uncontested victory that will ratify the republic.”

Meanwhile, some of the official websites of the Catalan government tied to the previous administration were down Tuesday, in a further sign of the takeover by central authorities.

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