January 22, 2018
By Rodrigo De Miguel and Stine Jacobsen
MADRID/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Catalonia’s parliament on Monday proposed Carles Puigdemont as its candidate for regional leader, dealing a blow to central government efforts to derail an independence movement that has plunged Spain into crisis.
As Puigdemont was named as the sole candidate for a position he was fired from in October, Spain’s Supreme Court rejected a request from the state prosecutor to reactivate a European arrest warrant to detain him in Copenhagen.
Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels in October after Madrid sacked him for spearheading a secessionist drive that culminated in a unilateral declaration of independence, was in Denmark on Monday on his first trip away from Belgium in three months of self-imposed exile.
He became the top candidate to lead the region again after elections there last month, called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, that gave secessionists a majority.
“I confirm that the only candidate that has been proposed is Mr. Carles Puigdemont,” said Roger Torrent, the Catalan parliament’s newly-elected separatist speaker.
“I am conscious of the warnings that weigh upon him, but I am also conscious of his absolute legitimacy to be candidate,” said Torrent, calling for dialogue with Madrid to resolve the situation.
Catalonia’s parliament is due to vote on the region’s leadership by Jan 31. Puigdemont argues he could govern from exile abroad, an option that Rajoy has ruled out.
A Reuters reporter saw Puigdemont come through customs at Copenhagen airport a little after 0700 GMT and, without being detained, get in a car and leave.
Shortly after his arrival, Spain’s state prosecution service said it had asked the Supreme Court to reactivate the warrant, on charges of sedition and rebellion, originally issued against him – and later lifted – after he fled to Belgium.
Hours later, the Court rejected the request, saying reactivating the warrant would be postponed until the Catalan parliament, which met for the first time last week, was restored to normal activity.
While at first glance a blow to Madrid’s efforts to have Puigdemont arrested, the court’s decision could also make it more difficult for the former Catalan leader to be allowed to vote.
Spanish laws make it easier for someone in detention than for someone who is abroad to be granted a parliamentary proxy.
After weeks of uneasy calm, the political crisis triggered by Catalonia’s independence drive flared up again last week when the new regional parliament elected Torrent as speaker at its first sitting.
Despite that tension, Spain’s borrowing costs fell to six-week lows on Monday after credit agency Fitch upgraded its sovereign rating to gave Spain its first “A-” grade since the euro zone debt crisis.
Puigdemont was due to appear at the University of Copenhagen at 2:00 p.m. (1300 GMT) for a debate on the political situation in Catalonia.
According the Danish parliament’s diary, he has also been invited to a meeting there on Tuesday by Magni Arge, a deputy representing the Faroe Islands, which have their own independence movement seeking secession from Denmark.
(Writing by Ingrid Melander and Sonya Dowsett; Editing by John Stonestreet)
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