Carles Puigdemont, the former leader of the Catalonia region, has been held on a Spanish arrest warrant. As an exiled politician, he was on the list of wanted in Spain. The police finally arrested him from Italy.
He fled to Belgium as Spain rushed a banned independence referendum four years ago. The police of Italy were waiting for him at Alghero airport in Sardinia. They have taken him to the nearby prison.
Spain has accused him of sedition. But his lawyers say that the European arrest warrant is no longer valid.
He had travelled to an Italian island on Thursday for a Catalan folklore festival. Also, he was in prison overnight in Sassari prison, which is quite near to the airport.
He is about to appear in court in Sardinia. There, a local judge has to decide whether he should be freed or not. Hundreds of protestors have rallied outside the Italian consulate in Barcelona in demand of his release.
The 2017 break-away referendum had prompted the deepest political crisis in Spain. The Catalan regional parliament has declared independence, while Madrid imposed direct rule over the region.
As Carles Puigdemont and two ministerial colleagues fled, Spain had jailed nine other Catalan leaders for sedition as they took part in the break-away vote.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pardoned them. The former Catalan president is now living in Belgium as a member of the European Parliament. His lawyer also successfully fought off the extradition of Spain in the past.
The new president of Catalonia, peer Aragones is also a separatist. He has been condemned for the persecution of Mr. Puigdemontn.
The Spanish government said in a statement: “The arrest of Mr. Puigdemont corresponds to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any EU citizen who has to answer to the courts.
He should “submit to the action of justice like any other citizen”, it added.
Catalonia is one of the richest regions in Spain, and it is already having a degree of autonomy. But many of the Catalans feel that they pay more to Madrid than what they get back. There is also a historical grievance, in particular the treatment of Catalonia under the dictatorship of Central Franco.