German police arrest ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont


Berlin (AFP)

German police on Sunday arrested Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont as he crossed the border with Denmark by car after Spain's Supreme Court vowed to prosecute 13 key separatists over their breakaway bid.

Puigdemont "was arrested today at 11:19 am by Schleswig-Holstein's highway patrol force," a German police spokesman told AFP, adding that the detention was based on a European warrant.

"He is now in police custody", added the spokesman.

Puigdemont's arrest came just two days after Spain's supreme court it would prosecute for "rebellion" 13 Catalan separatists, including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull, over their role in the region's failed breakaway bid. If found guilty, they face up to 30 years in prison.

Issuing an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the ousted Catalan leader of organising the independence referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid and "grave risk of violent incidents".

Puigdemont and four other deputies had fled to Belgium following their proclamation of independence for Catalonia in October, which sank the state into a crisis.

Spanish authorities have since imposed direct rule over the region, suspending the wealthy state's autonomy over the last five months.

While separatist parties won Catalonia's regional elections in December called by Madrid, they have been unable to form a government for the region as numerous leaders are in exile abroad or in jail.

Puigdemont himself had said from Belgium in early March that he was abandoning his bid to return as regional president, even though he had run in December's polls from abroad.

- On the way to Belgium -

He had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him.

Separately confirming his arrest in Germany, Puigdemont's party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa said: "It happened as he crossed the Danish-German border. He was treated well and all his lawyers are there. That is all I can say."

Puigdemont's lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said on Twitter that Puigdemont was picked up by German police as he was travelling back to Belgium.

He "was heading to Belgium to present himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian courts," added Alonso-Cuevillas.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's decision this week to prosecute the group of separatists has sunk the Catalan parliament deeper into a quagmire as its latest regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull was placed in custody over the breakaway bid.

That marks the third time that parliament has been unable to nominate a new president.

After Puigdemont was forced to withdraw his bid for the presidency, another pro-independence leader Jordi Sanchez faced the same fact as he was jailed.

If a new leader is not elected by May 22, fresh elections will be triggered.