Former Catalan leader fights extradition, encourages European leaders to speak out

Carles Puigdemont, ex-leader of Catalonia, urges European politicians to support secessionist leaders as these leaders are jailed by Spanish officials for allegedly acting on a plan to secede from the country.

Manu Fernandez/AP
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is pictured after the Catalan referendum for independence in Barcelona, Spain in October. Mr. Puigdemont is in Belgium fighting extradition to Spain.

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who wants to lead a pro-independence coalition of political forces in an upcoming regional election, criticized Tuesday the passivity of European politicians in denouncing the prosecution of dismissed secessionist officials.

In an interview Tuesday in Brussels with Catalan public radio, the separatist leader says there is an "absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites" and that Catalonia's problem is an "issue of human rights that requires maximum attention."

Mr. Puigdemont is fighting extradition to Spain, where other members of the ousted Catalan Cabinet have been sent to jail while awaiting the results of a probe for allegedly implementing a strategy to secede from Spain.

Spanish central authorities are now in direct control of the northeastern region, where an early election on Dec. 21 is shaping into a tight race between separatist and pro-union forces.

The civil society group that spearheaded the Catalan endeavor for secession from Spain on Tuesday called for the region's separatist political parties to run in a "unified pro-independence ticket." In a statement, Assemblea Nacional Catalana said such a joint coalition should include jailed separatist activists and the members of the deposed Catalan Cabinet as candidates.

The parties have until midnight Tuesday to register an interest in forming coalitions.

But a repetition of the ousted ruling coalition of the center-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) that also appeals to the anti-establishment Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party seems unlikely before the deadline expires.

PDeCAT wants Puigdemont to lead a hypothetical coalition, while ERC says it will only agree if deposed and jailed Vice President Oriol Junqueras heads a ticket supported by the CUP and even far-left non-nationalists.

A recent poll by the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper predicted that the three pro-secession parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in December. Sixty-eight seats are needed for a majority.

Pro-secession parties held a slim majority of 72 of 132 seats in the Catalan Parliament before it was dissolved by Spanish authorities after lawmakers passed a declaration of independence on Oct. 27.

The central government also removed Puigdemont's cabinet and called for a snap election to replace them.

Judges are also gauging possible rebellion charges against the former Catalan separatist officials and lawmakers who made the vote possible. Eight former cabinet members including Mr. Junqueras have been jailed, one of them released on bail and five more, including Puigdemont, are in Belgium where they plan to campaign while fighting extradition to Spain.

Six lawmakers, including the regional parliament's speaker Carme Forcadell, could also be sent to jail as soon as Thursday after they testify before a Supreme Court judge on a similar probe. They face possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, which can be punished with up to 30 years in prison.

Catalan separatist parties are planning to include some of the officials in ballots as a way to draw more attention to a situation that they consider unjust. Lawyers are also arguing that the officials should be spared jail before trial because running for a parliamentary seat means that they have no intention of fleeing the country.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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