Catalan president’s arrival in Brussels could be sign of asylum request

Summary

Carles Puigdemont, the deposed president of Catalonia, has arrived in Brussels with five of his ministers, possibly to seek asylum in order to avoid charges of sedition

‘A political decision with serious consequences’

Deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and five of his advisors arrived in Brussels yesterday and could seek political asylum in Belgium. The move follows rebellion and sedition charges filed by Spain’s attorney general against Puigdemont following the region’s independence referendum on 1 October.

Catalan officials have confirmed that Puigdemont (pictured) and five former ministers are staying in Brussels in “a safe and discreet” place. A press conference is expected sometime today, according to Catalan public broadcaster TV3.

The visit was reportedly organised by Catalonia’s delegate in Brussels, Amadeu Altafaj. Flemish broadcaster VRT says Puigdemont “will meet lawyers and political representatives”.

“A request for asylum from an EU citizen in another EU country is unallowable,” ULB migration professor Philippe De Bruycker told VRT, “but there is an exception. Every member state can decide to investigate such a request, but the European Council must be informed of this. And that is a political decision with serious consequences.”

If Puigdemont and his ministers were to be given asylum, it would prevent the Spanish government from being able to arrest and try them on the charges filed.

Adding ‘fuel to the fire’

Puigdemont’s possible arrival had already made headlines at the weekend, when Belgian migration minister Theo Francken (N-VA) told VRT that Puigdemont could request asylum in Belgium if he wanted to. “Catalans who feel politically threatened can request asylum in Belgium,” said Francken. “That includes president Puigdemont. That’s the law.”

Francken also suggested that it was unlikely that the Catalan leader could receive a fair trial in Spain. According to the Spanish majority party Partido Popular, the statements were “unacceptable” and it hoped for “an immediate rectification”.

Francken was heavily criticised by Belgian government colleagues, with prime minister Charles Michel telling him that the statements were “out of order” and not to “add fuel to the fire”.

According to Francken’s party colleague Jan Jambon, federal minister of internal affairs, Puigdemont was not here at the invitation of N-VA, an assertion repeated by other party members.

Groen and SP.A have asked Michel to explain the government’s position on the Catalan independence movement and Puigdemont’s presence in the capital.

Photo: Jordy Boixareu/Sputnik/BELGA

UPDATE: At a press conference this afternoon in Brussels, Carles Puigdemont said that he will not request asylum in Belgium."I have come to Brussels, not to Belgium. Belgian politicians have nothing to do with this," he said. "I have come to the capital of Europe to work in freedom and safety. We need your help to show that this is a political issue, not a judicial one."

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