Europe

Catalan Separatist Leader Turns Himself In to Belgian Officials

BARCELONA, Spain — Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Catalonia, turned himself in to the authorities in Belgium on Friday after a Spanish judge issued a European arrest warrant this week, but he vowed to fight Spain’s latest attempt to extradite him and try him on sedition charges.

A general strike was held across Catalonia on Friday and hundreds of thousands of people continued to protest the jailing of nine other separatist leaders over the failed bid, led by Mr. Puigdemont, to break away from Spain in 2017.

The unrest has roiled Barcelona since the sentences were handed down on Monday. The Spanish government has vowed to end the turmoil, after protesters clashed violently with the police and set fires in the streets of Barcelona and other cities for four nights.

Mr. Puigdemont, who was not detained by prosecutors in Brussels on Friday, fled to Belgium in October 2017 when Madrid forced him from office. Since then, Mr. Puigdemont has successfully fought extradition from Belgium and Germany, where judges rejected a Spanish claim that he had led a rebellion.

Spanish prosecutors now want Belgium to return Mr. Puigdemont to Spain to face trial on charges of sedition rather than rebellion. A Spanish judge issued a European arrest warrant for Mr. Puigdemont on Monday, hours after the Supreme Court sentenced the other Catalan former separatist leaders for sedition. They were given prison terms of nine to 13 years.

Three other separatist leaders were sentenced for the lesser crime of disobedience during the events two years ago.

Those rulings have touched off days of protests and escalated tensions in the region. Video footage online showed protesters chanting, “Freedom for political prisoners!” outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Roman Catholic basilica was later shut down, according to local news reports. The church’s official Twitter account said that a group of protesters had blocked the entrance and that access to the premises could no longer be guaranteed.

On Friday, protesters disrupted the region’s transportation network, adding to the impact of a strike that had already forced the cancellation of many commuter trains and buses. They also erected barricades along major roads, including the main highway to France.

With the unrest showing no sign of waning, a high-profile soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, scheduled for Oct. 26, was postponed, the Spanish Football Federation announced. Other important events have also been canceled this week, including a classical music concert in Barcelona that was to have been led by the British artist Simon Rattle.

In addition to pursuing Mr. Puigdemont, Spain’s judiciary could also issue new international warrants for other separatist politicians who have been avoiding Spanish prosecution in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland.

Raphael Minder has been based in Madrid as the Spain and Portugal correspondent since 2010. He previously worked for Bloomberg News in Switzerland and for the Financial Times in Paris, Brussels, Sydney and finally Hong Kong. @RaphaelMinder

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