Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan leader, called on Saturday for all the separatist parties in the region to form a coalition to fight elections which are to be held on December 21. Writing on Twitter, Mr Puigdemont, who is in hiding in Belgium after the Spanish government issued an international arrest warrant for him on Friday, said: “It’s the moment for all democrats to unite. For Catalonia, for the freedom of political prisoners and the Republic.”
His own political organisation, the Democratic Party of Catalonia, had announced on Friday that is was seeking to form a coalition and Mr Puigdemont has indicated that he would run in the election. However of more pressing concern to the man ousted this week as president of Catalonia by Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy is the need to avoid arrest; he and four colleagues who were ministers in his government are at undisclosed locations in Belgium.
Federal prosecutors in the country confirming on Saturday that they had received the European arrest warrants from Spain for Mr Puigdemont, Maria Serret Aleu, Antoni Comin Oliveres, Lluis Puig Gordi and Clara Ponsati Obiols. The group are facing charges for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.
The Spanish high court ordered on Thursday the arrest of eight of their colleagues who had returned to Spain from Belgium, so the stakes are clearly high. On Saturday afternoon Mr Puigdemont tweeted again, offering to engage with the Belgian authorities: “We are prepared to cooperate fully with Belgian justice [regarding] the European arrest warrant issued by Spain”.
The prosecutor’s office said: “Once the persons involved are found and brought before an investigating judge, (the judge) will have 24 hours to make a decision.” The judge will have to make the decision of whether to arrest the five and subsequently extradite them to Spain, or whether to let them remain at liberty.
"He (the judge) can decide not to issue an arrest warrant or he can issue an arrest warrant but possibly release the persons concerned under certain conditions,” the prosecutor’s office said.
The justice ministry confirmed that the final decision would rest with the judge: “They still allow in some situations to refuse the execution of an European arrest warrant.
“If the decision is to execute the (warrant), the person is in principle surrendered to the authorities of the issuing state within 10 days following the decision,” the justice ministry said.
The five are all able to appeal if the judge agrees to their arrest, a process which could take a further three months.
“The EU Framework Decision provides that the final decision must be taken within 60 days, with an extension to 90 days under exceptional circumstances,” the Belgian justice ministry said in a statement.
The Belgian government are attempting to take no political stance on the possible arrests, which could take place “over the weekend”, according to prosecutors. Justice minister Koen Geens said the enforcement of the arrest warrants “is a completely legal procedure.”
Mr Geens said “the executive power does not play any role in the EAW procedure. Everything goes through direct contact between the justice authorities.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee which has been quizzing officials from Twitter, Google and Facebook, suggested that Russia had been interfering in Catalonia’s attempted secession from Spain.
“You operate global platforms and there are reliable sources that report that similar operations [to the US] may be happening, for example, in Catalonia. What are you doing, right now, to ensure that your platforms are not used to generate division around the world to weaken Western democracies? And in particular, with the case of Catalonia, are you aware of what happened there?” asked Senator Martin Heinrich.
“We know the Russians were involved in the French election. We know that they were involved in the German elections. We are now learning they were involved in the separation of Spain,” said Senator Angus King.