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Catalans must ratify desire for independence: Puigdemont

Catalonia’s deposed President Carles Puigdemont has initiated his campaign for regional elections by calling on the Catalans to voice their desire for seceding from Spain and gaining independence.

The separatist leader made the remarks on Saturday in Oostkamp in Belgium, where he is currently residing, saying, “We Catalans demonstrated to the world that we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state. And on (December) 21, we must ratify this.”

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after his October 27 declaration of independence led to his ouster, along with other senior officials in the region has been accused of launching a rebellion against Spain and misusing public funds in a controversial referendum held on October 1. Less than half of eligible voters turned out in the vote, which Catalan leaders used to declare independence.

Since late October, Madrid has imposed direct rule on the once semi-autonomous region to prevent separatist Catalans from launching similar plebiscites. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has already dissolved the Catalan parliament and called next month’s snap elections in a bid to “restore normality” to the rich region.

The ousted regional president, who is awaiting possible extradition to Spain, is running as the head of the Junts per Catalunya (“All for Catalonia” in Catalan) grouping, which is composed of his conservative separatist PDeCAT party as well as members of civil society.

PDeCAT and the far-left ERC party are seeking to secure a majority for the pro-independence camp in the regional parliament in the upcoming elections on December 21, though ERC leaders have so far rejected a joint ticket. ERC officials also confirmed that they were in favor of negotiations with Madrid.

“This moment transcends political parties. It’s time for us to be activists for Catalonia, which is what people want,” Puigdemont further said.

However, it is not clear whether he will still be in Belgium when the elections take place. If Brussels decides to extradite him to Spain, he faces prison pending an investigation into the charges against him.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Puigdemont and four former Catalan regional government ministers but they remained in Belgium to escape incarceration. The charges brought against Puigdemont and his former ministers are severe and could see them jailed for up to 30 years.

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