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The arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Italy, Thursday, marks the epilogue of a four-year flight since the attempted secession of Catalonia carried out in Spain, in 2017. France 24 looks back on the key stages of this separatist crisis in full swing heart of Europe.
Almost four years after having tried to declare the independence of Catalonia, in 2017, and his flight abroad, the ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont – demanded by the Spanish justice – was arrested, Thursday, September 23, in Italy.
The independentist spent the night in prison in Sassari in Sardinia, where he was arrested. He was going to Alghero, a Sardinian city of Catalan culture where he was to participate in a cultural festival and meet with elected officials from the Italian island.
The Spanish government, which still accuses the independence leader of sedition, calls for his immediate extradition. A decision that must be decided by the Italian justice, which decided while waiting to release him on Friday.
Back on the journey of the one who has become the most famous face of Catalan independence.
Before his election to the presidency of Catalonia in 2016, Carles Puigdemont’s only political experience was that of mayor of the independence stronghold of Girona, a city of 100,000 inhabitants.
Barely a year and a half after his arrival at the head of the Spanish region, this former journalist with the thick helmet of brown hair is organizing with his government, despite the ban on justice, a self-determination referendum.
Prohibited by justice, this referendum is held on October 1, 2017. It was legitimized upstream by a law passed on September 6, 2017 by independentist deputies. The latter, in the majority in the regional parliament since 2015, are those who elected Carles Puigdemont at the head of Catalonia.
The referendum does take place but it is punctuated by police violence, the images of which travel around the world. The separatist government of Carles Puigdemont announces the victory of the “yes” at 90%. Unverifiable results in the absence of tellers, because the electronic counting of ballots was blocked by the police.
Two days later, King Felipe VI calls for the restoration of constitutional order, while demonstrations are organized to denounce police violence, against the backdrop of a general strike in Catalonia. Speaking on television, Carles Puigdemont accused the Spanish sovereign of ignoring the aspirations of the Catalans.
A few weeks later, on October 27, 2017, 70 deputies out of the 135 of the Catalan parliament voted a unilateral declaration of independence which would go unheeded.
Madrid, where the conservative Mariano Rajoy is in power, immediately suspends Catalonia’s autonomy, dismisses its government and dissolves parliament.
On November 2, eight members of the Catalan government, including its vice-president Oriol Junqueras, were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.
A European arrest warrant was issued in November 2017 against Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels. He settled in Waterloo, in the south of the country.
By leaving Catalonia for Belgium to everyone’s surprise, the ex-leader abandons many of his former “ministers”, who will be arrested.
The arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Italy is not a first. The independentist was arrested for the first time in a European country, in Germany this time, in March 2018 at the request of Spain. But he was released a few days later after the German justice dropped the charge of “rebellion” against him.
In the absence of Carles Puigdemont, on February 12, 2019, the historic trial of twelve Catalan independence leaders for their role in the secession attempt begins.
On October 14, 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine of them, including Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Puigdemont, to terms ranging from 9 to 13 years in prison.
As soon as the sentence was announced, thousands of Catalan activists took to the streets again, cut roads and railways and tried to paralyze Barcelona airport. Clashes between demonstrators and the police rock Catalonia for several nights.
Sometimes accused by his detractors of “fugitive” or “coward”, Carles Puigdemont continues to occupy the political field, in particular as a member of the European Parliament, where he was elected in 2019, with his party Together for Catalonia (JxC ).
But the European Parliament votes to lift Carles Puigdemont’s parliamentary immunity in March 2021, paving the way for the possibility of extradition to Spain.
However, the decision of the European Parliament has been the subject of an appeal whose final judgment on the merits by the EU justice must be pronounced “at a later date”. According to the interpretation of Carles Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, Parliament’s decision is therefore “suspended”.
The nine separatists imprisoned in 2019 were pardoned in June 2021 by the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez.
Carles Puigdemont, however, did not benefit from this pardon, the government still wanting him to be tried in Spain. He remains prosecuted for “sedition” and “embezzlement of public funds”.
Following this gesture, on September 15, 2021, negotiations resume between Madrid and the Catalan separatists, while the latter have strengthened their majority in the Parliament of Catalonia in recent months in early regional elections.
The new regional president of Catalonia, Pere Aragones, a separatist with a more moderate tendency than Carles Puigdemont is committed to calling for the organization of a self-determination referendum with Madrid, which remains fiercely opposed to it.
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