Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont arrives for a press conference in Brussels, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials, including the ex-regional leader. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Catalan ex-leader to speak in Brussels as asylum rumors grow

October 31, 2017 - 7:48 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — Catalonia's ousted regional president will give a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday, European officials said, as speculation mounted that he might seek political asylum in Belgium and try to avoid possible prosecution in Spain for declaring Catalan independence.

Carles Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against him and other Catalan officials.

Puigdemont is due to speak shortly at the Brussels Press Club, which is right next to the European Union's headquarters. He walked into the building past a few protesters with Spanish national flags and pro-unity signs, including ones that that said "Rule of Law" and "Not in my Name. Long live Spain."

Over the weekend, a Belgian government official said that it wouldn't be "unrealistic" for Puigdemont to request asylum.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said that the central government in Madrid would be surprised if Puigdemont sought asylum in Belgium and were granted protection there.

Dastis told Spain's Cadena SER radio that there is a level of "reciprocal trust" about the rule of law among members of the European Union.

"It would be surprising that he could receive the right to asylum under the current circumstances," Dastis said, adding that the acceptance of an asylum petition "would not be a situation of normality" in relations between the two countries.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren't extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.

Spain took control over prosperous northeastern Catalonia this weekend after Puigdemont led the regional parliament to proclaim a new republic on Friday. The Spanish government immediately sacked him and his Cabinet, dissolved the regional parliament and called a new Catalan election for Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, Spain's Supreme Court said Tuesday it will investigate six ex-members of the governing body of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament for possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the parliament's declaration of independence last week. The six include ex-speaker of the parliament Carme Forcadell, one of the leading activists of Catalonia's pro-independence movement for many years.

The ruling Tuesday came a day after Spain's chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza announced he was seeking charges. Rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison, respectively. Maza is also seeking similar charges against ousted regional leader Carles Puigdemont, and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras.

One of the main separatist civil society groups of Catalonia, the National Catalan Assembly, said Tuesday it accepted the regional election, despite the fact it was called under the Spanish government's intervention.

The group, whose leader is in jail on provisional sedition charges, is not a political party but it has been the driving civic force behind the independence movement in recent years.

It said grassroots organizations need to prepare a "joint strategy" ahead of the elections with the goal of "obtaining an uncontested victory that will ratify the Republic."

Meanwhile, some of the official websites of the Catalan government tied to the previous administration were down Tuesday, in a further sign of the takeover by central authorities.

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Aritz Parra reported from Barcelona, Spain.

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