STRASBOURG, France (AP) – Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrived for his first session as a member of the European Parliament on Monday despite facing an arrest warrant against him in Spain.
The former Catalan president and new EU legislator is bent on using the parliament to continue his political fight for an independent Catalonia breaking away from Spain. His parliamentary position also gives him immunity.
And Puigdemont used his arrival to demand the immediate release from a Spanish jail of another Catalan leader who was elected to the European Parliament, former Catalonia vice president Oriol Junqueras.
“He should be here with us. He has the same rights,” Puigdemont said, backed by posters demanding “Free Junqueras.”
His ability to have such exposure at the heart of the European Union to decry such issues as imprisonment in Spain is somewhat of a blow to the central authorities in Madrid, who have steadfastly sought to blunt the drive to give the wealthy northeastern region independence. Left-leaning parties have just formed a Spanish minority government which is dependent on the tacit support of a more moderate Catalan party.
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Puigdemont arrived at the legislature in the early afternoon, cheered by a few hundred supporters who had over a dozen Catalan flags fluttering in the midday winds outside the legislature in northeastern France. “Puigdemont president,” they shouted in unison.
Puigdemont arrived together with fellow EU legislator and former Catalan minister Toni Comín. Spain tried to ban us, he said, “but today we are here, finally.”
The two are wanted in Spain for their role in an illegal 2017 secession bid by the Catalan government and separatist lawmakers. They fled in exile to Belgium after the attempt failed and were elected to the European Parliament in May as representatives of Catalan separatist parties from Spain.
The regional Catalan coalition government was also in Strasbourg in support.
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