Lawyers fight ex­tra­di­tion of for­mer Cat­alo­nia pres­i­dent to Spain

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - CLASSIFIEDS - LORNE COOK

BRUS­SELS — The Cata­lan cri­sis is be­ing called a “night­mare” and a “time bomb” for Bel­gium’s gov­ern­ment.

The out­lawed in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in Cat­alo­nia hasn’t just sparked a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Spain. The flight of the re­gion’s ousted pres­i­dent to Brus­sels is sow­ing di­vi­sions within the Bel­gian gov­ern­ment and looks set to dam­age ties be­tween the two European Union part­ners.

Even as Cat­alo­nia’s for­mer pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont and his lawyer were ques­tioned by an in­ves­ti­gat­ing judge on Sun­day about his ex­tra­di­tion, mem­bers of Bel­gium’s gov­ern­ment, Bel­gian politi­cians and Span­ish of­fi­cials were trad­ing barbs.

Most vo­cal are mem­bers of the Flem­ish na­tion­al­ist N-VA party — a key mem­ber of Bel­gium’s rul­ing coali­tion and whose sep­a­ratist de­sires ap­pear to have been in­flamed by Puigde­mont’s most re­cent drive for Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence from Spain.

“I am just ques­tion­ing how an EU mem­ber state can go this far,” Bel­gian Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Jan Jam­bon told the VTM net­work Sun­day, in ref­er­ence to the jail­ing of sev­eral of Puigde­mont’s as­so­ciates in Spain last week.

Puigde­mont main­tains that his ar­rival in Brus­sels is about rais­ing the pro­file of Cata­lan na­tion­hood at the European level, and not to in­ter­fere in Bel­gian pol­i­tics, or “Bel­gian­ize” pol­i­tics in Cat­alo­nia. But his stay is be­ing dubbed “the Bel­gian gov­ern­ment’s night­mare” in the me­dia.

“The dossier is a time bomb for the fed­eral coali­tion,” wrote the daily Le Soir.

Very lit­tle crit­i­cism of Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s gov­ern­ment has been voiced by Spain’s 27 EU part­ner coun­tries, but Bel­gium did con­demn the vi­o­lence, much of it blamed on po­lice heavy­hand­ed­ness, that marked the Oct. 1 ref­er­en­dum in Cat­alo­nia.

Around 900 peo­ple were hurt — nearly all of them mi­nor in­juries. Spain’s gov­ern­ment de­fended the po­lice re­sponse, say­ing it was pro­por­tion­ate to the re­sis­tance of­fi­cers met on the streets.

“You have Span­ish law but also international law, the European Hu­man Rights Treaty and such things and they come ahead of mem­ber state law,” Jam­bon said. “I think the international com­mu­nity must keep a close watch.”

On Twit­ter, a Ra­joy ally and mem­ber of the European Par­lia­ment, Este­ban Gon­za­lez Pons, wrote that “a year ago, Jam­bon who is de­fend­ing Puigde­mont, was jus­ti­fy­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazis.”

Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Charles Michel has tried to stay above the fray, re­fus­ing so far to com­ment on the case of Puigde­mont and four of his as­so­ciates in Bel­gium.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Bel­gian For­eign Min­is­ter Di­dier Reyn­ders from weigh­ing in.

“There has been ex­cite­ment around this dossier that ex­ceeds the lim­its of what is rea­son­able,” he told broad­caster RTL. “Some peo­ple are get­ting in­volved in Bel­gium and com­ment­ing on the cri­sis when it’s not their role.”

“The first thing to do is keep the di­a­logue open with Spain,” Reyn­ders added.

Eas­ier said than done when Bel­gian politi­cians are us­ing po­lit­i­cally-charged lan­guage to com­pare Ra­joy’s cen­tre-right gov­ern­ment in Madrid and the Span­ish ju­di­ciary to the dic­ta­tor­ship of Gen. Fran­cisco Franco half a cen­tury ago.

“You know where the past of the Pop­u­lar Party is, and ever more its present — and it is Franco, it is re­pres­sion, it is jail­ing peo­ple be­cause of their opin­ion, it is the use of vi­o­lence against its cit­i­zens,” N-VA leader Bart De Wever told the VRT net­work Mon­day.

Things are only likely to heat up as cam­paign­ing for the Dec. 21 re­gional elec­tion in Cat­alo­nia gets un­der­way, and Puigde­mont starts stump­ing for re-elec­tion from Bel­gium. Brus­sels pros­e­cu­tors con­firmed Mon­day that his pro­vi­sional re­lease terms al­low him to cam­paign and talk to the me­dia.

If Puigde­mont’s lawyer ex­hausts all av­enues of ap­peal, the ousted leader could be in town un­til Jan­uary.

In a col­umn pub­lished Mon­day on the Lon­don-based Guardian’s web­site, Puigde­mont said the de­ten­tion of his col­leagues in Spain is “a colos­sal ou­trage” and he vowed to fight for sep­a­ratist rights.

He said he wants to draw the at­ten­tion of other EU coun­tries to the crack­down and “de­mand a po­lit­i­cal rather than ju­di­cial solution to the prob­lem.”

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