Puigdemont, Catalan ministers turn up in Brussels as Madrid sues them for rebellion

Puigdemont, Catalan ministers turn up in Brussels as Madrid sues them for rebellion
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has appeared in Brussels alongside other members of his cabinet as the Spanish Attorney General Jose Manuel Maza filed a lawsuit against the secessionist leaders over their push for independence.

Puigdemont did not go to the Catalonian regional Government Palace on Monday, even though he earlier vowed to “continue working to build a free country” in defiance of Madrid’s decision to sack his government and suspend Catalonia’s independence, which he said went against the will of the people.

On Monday morning, he posted a photo of the Catalan parliamentary palace, but did not appear there. Later, the Catalan media reported that the sacked regional leader turned up in Brussels alongside with some other members of his cabinet. 

The Spanish authorities soon confirmed that Puigdemont had indeed traveled to the Belgian capital. The Catalan government’s press service, on the contrary, said it has no information about his whereabouts and added that it “knows nothing about the president [of the Generalitat of Catalonia] at the moment,” as reported by TASS.

Later on Monday, a Belgian lawyer, Paul Beckaert, told Reuters that Puigdemont had asked him to become his legal representative in Belgium. However, he said, the sacked Catalan leader has made no specific legal requests so far.

"I can confirm Carles Puigdemont has appointed me as his legal representative, as he is currently in Belgium," the lawyer said. "I'm his lawyer in case he needs me. At the moment there are no specific dossiers I am preparing for him," he added.

Puigdemont left Spain for Belgium at a time when the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the sacked Catalan leader, other members of his cabinet and some regional MPs on rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges with the Spanish National Court. In total, the charges have been filed against 12 people, La Vanguardia reports.

Catalonia’s El Periodico newspaper reported that Puigdemont allegedly traveled to Brussels to meet with Flemish politicians. Two days ago Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, expressed its solidarity with the Catalans in their drive for independence.

Belgian Immigration Minister Theo Francken did not rule out granting asylum to Puigdemont if he applies. The minister called such an outcome “not unrealistic” on Sunday.

His statement, however, provoked a backlash from Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who said that giving political asylum to Puigdemont is “absolutely not on the agenda.” He also urged Francken “not to fan the flames.”

Belgium is one of the few European countries where EU citizens can obtain political asylum. The Spanish media report that former Catalan leader Puigdemont and some of his cabinet members will give a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday.

Madrid announced the dismissal of Puigdemont and his cabinet, as well as the head of the regional police force, on Saturday as it imposed direct rule over the secessionist region. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved the Catalan parliament and announced a snap election scheduled to be held in the region on December 21.

The move followed the Catalan parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence from Spain on Friday after 90 percent supported cutting ties with Madrid in the regional referendum on October 1.

On Saturday, Puigdemont denounced Madrid’s decision as going against the will of the people and called for peaceful resistance to the central government’s power takeover. On Sunday, however, hundreds of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators flooded the streets of the Catalan capital of Barcelona in a march aimed to defend Spain’s unity.

On Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told AP that Catalonia’s autonomy could possibly be expanded. He added at the same time that full independence for the secessionist region is “ruled out.”