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Ex-Catalan leader calls for dialogue with Spain after release from German jail

John MacDougall, AFP | Carles Puigdemont sings the Catalan national anthem with supporters after addressing reporters in Berlin on April 7, 2018.

Fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Saturday made a renewed call for Spanish authorities to open negotiations over Catalonia's secession claim, a day after he was released from a German prison.

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Puigdemont told reporters that he hoped a German court's decision not to extradite him to Spain on charges of rebellion shows that "dialogue is needed" to defuse the political conflict in his home country.

"I hope the situation could help ... Spanish authorities understand that political measures are needed," Puigdemont said at a press conference in Berlin. "This opens a new opportunity of dialogue."

The former leader left a German prison in Neumuenster on bail Friday after the Schwesig state court in Germany decided the charge of rebellion did not warrant extradition because the accusation isn't punishable under German law.

Puigdemont can still be extradited on the less serious charge of misuse of funds to hold Catalonia's banned independence referendum last year.

Germany Justice Minister Katarina Barley applauded the court's decision to free Puigdemont on bail as "absolutely right" and what she had expected.

Barley said it was now up to Spain to prove their other charges against Puigdemont, which she said "won't be easy".

She said that if Spain couldn't prove the allegations of misuse of public funds, "then Puigdemont will be a free man in a free country - namely in Germany.

Misuse of public funds carries a sentence of up to eight years in Spain, while a rebellion sentence can reach 30 years

Back to Belgium?

Puigdemont, 55, told reporters he would stay in Berlin until his extradition case is concluded. If he is not sent back to Spain, he said he would plan to return to Belgium where he has established residency since fleeing Spain in October

"My wish is to return to Belgium. But only after the end of the proceedings here in Germany, not before," he told reporters in Berlin.

"My plan is to remain of course in Berlin. It is my residence now until the end of this process," he said.

Puigdemont, who fled Spain five months ago for Belgium after his administration's declaration of independence from Spain led to Madrid taking direct control of the regional government, was arrested last month on a Spanish-issued warrant as he entered Germany.

The Spanish government has said it would respect the German court's decision. But Spain's Supreme Court said on Friday it was considering consulting the European Court of Justice on the ruling, without giving more details.

Spain's Supreme Court reactivated international arrest warrants last month for Puigdemont and four other Catalan politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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