ALGHERO, Sardinia – (AP) – Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont promised on Saturday to continue touring Europe to campaign for the region’s independence from Spain, but confirmed that he will appear at a hearing on October 4 to to decide whether he will be extradited to Spain on charges of sedition.
Puigdemont, a member of the European Union Parliament who was previously President of Spain’s troubled Catalonia region, adopted a defiant tone during a press conference 48 hours after his arrest when he arrived in Sardinia to attend a Catalan cultural festival, and then left him free.
The Sardinian judge who released him did not impose travel restrictions until the October 4 extradition hearing, suggesting that Puigdemont had the green light to leave Italy and close the case. But Piugdemont said Saturday he would attend the hearing, “answer any questions the judge will ask me,” and assumed he would run free.
“My plan is that as soon as the Italian judiciary says OK, your duty is done, I will return to my house in Belgium,” he said.
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017 on fear of arrest after holding an independence referendum for Catalonia that the Spanish courts and government ruled illegal.
Members of his entourage called his high-profile arrest and speedy release a political âboomerangâ for Spain, which resumed talks with Catalonia’s regional leadership earlier this month to resolve the political crisis that had persisted since the referendum.
Puigdemont vowed to continue touring Europe to advance his cause, saying the past two days had proven he enjoyed the support of European judicial authorities.
âEverything that has happened in the last few hours proves all of our arguments, all of our reasons in our struggle for freedom, for democracy, to defend the right to self-determination and the right to freedom of expression, movement and commitment in politics, âhe said.
“The only crime we committed was organizing a referendum,” he added.
The focus of the immediate legal question is whether the arrest warrant issued by Spain against Puigdemont is valid. Gonzalo Boye, his lawyer, has insisted that the 2019 European arrest warrant, which formed the basis for the arrest of the Italian authorities, be suspended.
Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena on the case sent a letter to the European Union Agency for Criminal Law Cooperation stating that the warrant was “in force”.
It’s not the first time Spanish courts have tried to arrest Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court rejected him in 2017, he was arrested in Germany the following year, but a court there also refused to extradite him.
Nine other Catalan separatists were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the 2017 referendum. They were pardoned in July, but not Puigdemont, who had fled.
Although Puigdemont has a seat in the European Parliament, this legislature withdrew his parliamentary immunity. Puigdemont noted that he was expected to attend a parliamentary session in Strasbourg on October 4, but said he would follow them remotely from his laptop in Sardinia if necessary.
Winfield contributed from Rome.
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