Former leader of Spain’s Catalonia Carles Puigdemont says he fled the country to Belgium to avoid a “wave of violence” Madrid was preparing against the independence campaign in the region.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the Spanish state was preparing a harsh wave of repression and violence for which we would have all been held responsible,” Puigdemont said on Tuesday while speaking to the Catalan radio.
Puigdemont traveled to Brussels after he declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain on October 27, a move which sparked a crackdown by Madrid against secessionist leaders of the region. Puigdemont and four ministers who are with him in Belgium failed to appear in a Madrid court hearing to respond to charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds. Nine other ministers have been tried, eight of them now jailed pending more investigation.
Puigdemont said in his Tuesday interview that he traveled to Belgium to represent Catalonia’s “government in exile” and garner international support for his independence drive. The secessionist leader would not elaborate how his escape spared Catalonia from the wave of violence by Madrid.
A European arrest warrant has also been issued for Puigdemont and the four associates and a Belgian court will study their extradition next week.
Spain has sacked Puigdemont’s government, calling fresh elections for Catalonia on December 21. Puigdemont has said he would contest the elections. Madrid says he would be welcome to participate but his prosecution should go ahead.
Puigdemont declared Catalonia’s independence based on the results of a controversial referendum on October 1. Less than half of eligible Catalan voters turned out in the referendum that saw more than 90 percent endorse the independence drive.