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Finland ready to arrest Puigdemont on European warrant


Helsinki (AFP)

Finnish police said Saturday they were seeking to arrest Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont under a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, but did not know his whereabouts.

Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, has been visiting Finland since Thursday for talks with lawmakers and had been due to leave on Saturday afternoon.

It was not known if he was still in the Nordic country.

"Finland has received a European arrest warrant for a Spanish citizen visiting Finland. The person concerned will be handled in a normal extradition procedure," Finland's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said in a statement.

"The person's whereabouts are not currently known to authorities," the statement said.

Puigdemont is wanted by Spain on charges of "rebellion" and "sedition". Tensions are running high in the region and separatist parties have abandoned plans to name a new president following the arrest of the latest candidate.

Separatist parties won regional elections in December called by Madrid after they attempted to secede and retained their absolute majority in parliament.

But they have still not been able to form a government and face growing legal pressures that have seen many moderate their tone. With numerous leaders abroad or in jail, the separatists have struggled to re-organise or even remain in politics.

Finnish police had earlier told AFP they were awaiting further information from Spanish authorities on the arrest warrant before acting on it.

- 'Puigdemont may surrender' -

The Finnish MP who organised Puigdemont's visit, Mikko Karna, told media he had not been in touch with him since Friday.

Puigdemont's lawyer Jaume Alonso Cuevillas meanwhile told Catalunya Radio his client would not try to escape arrest.

"When the European arrest warrant was issued (a first time), he made himself available to the Belgian justice and police, and he would do the same thing now. I have not spoken to him yet but that is clear, yes."

Spanish media reported Saturday that Puigdemont may surrender to Finnish police.

"I am aware of the information in the Spanish press but so far at least I haven't heard or seen anything that confirms that. We've had no contact with the person himself or his assistants," Finnish NBI criminal inspector Hannu Kautta told AFP.

Asked if police were actively searching for Puigdemont, he replied: "I don't want to comment on that. We will not divulge the details of what we are doing to get the person in our possession."

However, he said police had "a whole tool box" of options to use once they knew his whereabouts, "one being that we would apprehend him and put him into our custody, ensure due process ... but there are other possibilities as well like house arrest."

Kautta said it was possible Puigdemont may also have left the country.

"Taking into account the fact that the borders between the Schengen countries are not so controlled, it is possible that he has already travelled already abroad. But I can't confirm or deny it because we simply don't have the information," he said.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, the Catalan parliament suspended its debates on Saturday after regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull, who had been due to seek a second-round vote in the parliament, was placed in custody over the region's breakaway bid.

Spain has issued international arrest warrants for five other separatists, including four former ministers who are also in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

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