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'He is not going to Madrid': Catalan leader defies Spain's call to return, face judge

'He is not going to Madrid': Catalan leader defies Spain's call to return, face judge
From CBC - November 4, 2017

Some members of Catalonia's ousted government will appear before a Spanish judge Thursday for questioning in the rebellion investigation stemming from the region's declaration of independence, but the former regional president does not plan to be among them.

A Belgian lawyer representing the sacked Catalan president said Wednesday he was seeking to have Carles Puigdemont questioned instead in Belgium. Puigdemont turned up in Brussels this week along with several of his former Cabinet members.

"He is not going to Madrid, and I suggested that they question him here in Belgium," the lawyer, Paul Bekaert, told The Associated Press. Bekaert said such an arrangement was possible, but he did not know if Spanish authorities would accept the offer.

All 14 of the regional officials removed from office by the Spanish government face possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement for driving the series of moves that culminated in Catalan lawmakers voting in favour of independence from Spain last Friday.

In a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, Puigdemont said the Catalan officials who travelled to Belgium were seeking "freedom and safety."

Spain's chief prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against Puigdemont, his ousted vice-president Oriol Junqueras and another 12 members of the now-fired Catalan government. Convictions carry potential decades-long prison sentences.

'We are facing a political trial'

The legal moves are part of the Spanish central government's implementation of extraordinary constitutional powers after Catalan lawmakers voted on Oct. 27 to secede from Spain in an escalation of what has become Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Under that authority, the Spanish government sacked the Catalan cabinet, dissolved the regional parliament and called an election for Dec. 21.

A statement issued by the ousted cabinet, which described itself as "the legitimate government" of Catalonia, said some members would travel to Madrid and appear in court to "denounce the lack of guarantees of the Spanish justice system."

The statement described the charges sought by prosecutors as "disproportionate," saying they were "equivalent to crimes such as murder or terrorism." The direction of the criminal probe demonstrates "we are facing a political trial brought by orders of the Spanish state," they said.

Puigdemont and other removed Catalan officials intend to remain in Brussels and respond to any criminal charges "according to the mechanisms foreseen in the European Union in such circumstances," the statement read without elaboration.

The 14 have been summoned to appear in the National Court in Madrid at 9 a.m. Thursday for questioning that is scheduled to last through Friday. Separately, another six ousted Catalan lawmakers have been summoned to appear before Spain's Supreme Court in a parallel investigation of potential rebellion.

Nine of the former cabinet members were expected to appear in court as ordered. They include Junqueras, Raul Romeva, who handled the Catalan government's foreign affairs, and former government spokespersonJordi Turull.

'An extradition petition to Belgium'

'Heshould have faced the truth'

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