Catalan Separatist Leader, Carles Puigdemont, Arrested in Italy

MADRID — Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Spain’s Catalonia region, was arrested by the Italian police Thursday night on the island of Sardinia, his office said in a statement, on an arrest warrant issued by Spain’s top court on charges of sedition.

Mr. Puigdemont, a member of the European Parliament, had been traveling to the Sardinian city of Alghero from Brussels, where he had fled to avoid the charges, first brought in 2017.

He had gone to Sardinia to attend a Catalan folk culture festival known as the Adifolk Conference, the statement from his office said. When he arrived at the airport, he was detained by the Italian police.

He faces a trial in Spain for his leading role in an unsuccessful attempt to declare an independent state in Catalonia in the fall of 2017, following a referendum that the Spanish government and courts had declared illegal to hold.

In March of this year, the European Parliament stripped him of his immunity, a move he has been fighting in the courts. In July, a European court denied a request to reinstate it.

Josep Costa, an attorney working with Mr. Puigdemont, said on Twitter that he expected his client would soon be released.

“The shame will remain on Spain for history,” he wrote.

Spain’s government made no immediate comment on the arrest.

The arrest will no doubt add turbulence to a renewed effort to seek an end to Spain’s territorial conflict over Catalonia. Just last week, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, met with his regional counterpart, Pere Aragonès, in Barcelona to discuss the fate of the restive region.

Among Mr. Aragonès’s demands is a call for a general amnesty for those jailed or facing charges related to the 2017 independence attempt. At the top of the list for many is Mr. Puigdemont.

In June, Mr. Sánchez issued pardons to the nine independence activists who had been given lengthy sentences for sedition. But Spain says it can’t offer any pardon to Mr. Puigdemont until he stands trial.

The separatist conflict continues to be one of the most divisive political issues in Spain.

In 2017, when Mr. Puigdemont was regional leader, Catalonia’s government staged an independence referendum in defiance of Spain’s government and its courts, which had declared the vote illegal. Police officers confiscated ballots and even beat people who attempted to vote.

After the central government took control of the region, and as it became clear that sedition charges were in the offing, Mr. Puigdemont fled Spain and was declared a fugitive.

The arrest was welcome news to conservative politicians in Spain, who applauded the move on Thursday night.

“Puigdemont must be tried in Spain for his strike against constitutional legality, and Sánchez must commit to respecting the judgment of justice without pardons,” said Pablo Casado, the head of the conservative Popular Party.

Spain has repeatedly failed in its attempts to extradite Mr. Puigdemont, both from Belgium where he has resided since late 2017, and also Germany, where he was briefly detained in 2018. A German court ordered his release after turning down Spain’s extradition request

La Nuova Sardegna, a local Sardinia newspaper, had reported on Wednesday that Mr. Puigdemont would be a surprise guest at the folk festival in Alghero, a city with deep Catalan roots.

According to Italian media, Mr. Puigdemont also confirmed that he would attend this weekend’s Corona de Logu, an assembly of local movements supporting Sardinia’s independence from Italy.

A spokesman for the region of Sardinia said authorities had arrested Mr. Puigdemont right as he stepped off the plane at Alghero-Fertilia airport on Thursday.

Jason Horowitz contributed reporting from Treviso, Italy, and Raphael Minder from Madrid.

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