Exiled Catalan ex-leader Puigdemont hopes to return to Belgium


Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont makes a renewed call for Spanish authorities to open dialogue over Catalonia's secession claim, a day after he was released from a German prison.

A demonstration was planned in the northern German town of Neum├╝nster, where Puigdemont had been held since his detention, against his still-possible extradition. He could still be extradited to Spain on charges of misusing state funds.

The speaker of Catalonia's regional parliament has again put forward a jailed separatist activist to be elected as the northeast Spanish region's new leader.

The other charge against him, misuse of public funds will be reviewed by Germany after Spain presents their case.

The German court in Schleswig on Thursday ruled that they will not extradite him on the basis of his rebellion charge, while pending the decision to extradite him on his embezzlement charge.

A smiling Puigdemont emerged into the sunshine from the prison in Neumuenster, where he has been held for almost two weeks, thanking staff "for their professionality and for their respect" and the inmates for "their solidarity and help for me to adapt quickly to the situation".

Misuse of public funds carries a sentence of up to eight years in Spain, while a rebellion sentence can reach 30 years.

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Puigdemont was freed after a German court ruled out the charge of rebellion for which Spain issued an worldwide arrest warrant, arguing they found no evidence of violence in Puigdemont actions.

He said he hoped to return to live in Belgium once the legal process was over in Germany but that he meant to remain in Berlin while proceedings continued.

At a press conference, a German government spokeswoman reiterated Berlin's position that it will not interfere in the judicial process, saying: "The proceedings are in the judiciary's hands". He was trying to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he had been living since fleeing to escape arrest in Spain.

Germany's justice minister has applauded a court's decision to free Puigdemont on bail, two weeks after his arrest in Germany.

After walking out of jail, Puigdemont called for the release of so-called political prisoners in Spain, notably those who were arrested for their involvement in the Catalan independence referendum.

Puigdemont's lawyer, Wolfgang Schomburg, said he was confident of convincing the court not to allow his client's extradition on the misuse of funds charges.

But Spain's Supreme Court said on Friday it was considering consulting the European Court of Justice on the ruling, without giving more details.