Catalan leader Puigdemont strolls in Sardinia after his release
ALGHERO, Sardinia (AP) – Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont took a leisurely stroll through Sardinia on Saturday, greeting his supporters on the Italian island a day after a judge released him from prison pending a hearing on his extradition to Spain to face charges of sedition.
Puigdemont, a member of the European Union’s parliament who previously served as president of the troubled region of Catalonia, attended a Catalan cultural festival and had a meeting scheduled for Saturday later with the region’s current president and deputy.
Puigdemont was arrested Thursday by Italian police as he arrived in Sardinia, a Mediterranean island strongly linked to Catalan culture and its own separatist movement. But a Sardinian judge released him a day later and imposed no travel restrictions pending the October 4 extradition hearing, leaving Puigdemont free to attend the festival on Saturday in Alghero.
As he crossed the harbor and entered the town hall, Catalan folk singers and dancers cheered him on.
“I’m used to (being) chased by Spain, but the end is always the same. I am free and I will continue to fight, ”Puigdemont told The Associated Press during his walk.
He said he came to Sardinia “because you know that Alghero has a very, very deep root in Catalan culture and the Catalan language. So for me, this is a very, very important opportunity to be here, free!
Puigdemont and a number of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing they would be arrested after holding a referendum on Catalonia’s independence that the Spanish courts and government declared illegal.
His arrest came at a sensitive time for the Spanish government and the regional leadership of Catalonia, which earlier this month resumed talks aimed at resolving the political crisis that has persisted since Spain’s crackdown on the separatist movement.
Although Puigdemont holds a seat in the European Parliament, this legislature stripped him of his parliamentary immunity.
At the heart of the immediate legal question is whether the warrant issued by Spain requesting the arrest of Puigdemont is valid. Gonzalo Boye, his lawyer, insisted that the European warrant issued in 2019 which served as the basis for the Italian authorities to detain him has been suspended.
The Spanish Supreme Court judge in charge of the case, Pablo Llarena, sent a letter to the European Union Agency for Cooperation in Criminal Justice Matters stating that the arrest warrant was “in force and in force. awaiting the capture of those accused of rebellion ”.
This is not the first time that Spanish courts have tried to detain Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court refused to return him in 2017, the following year he was arrested in Germany, but a court also refused to extradite him.
Nine Catalan separatists were subsequently sentenced to prison terms for their role in the 2017 referendum, ranging from nine to 13 years. They were pardoned in July, but not Puigdemont, who fled.
Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.