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Puigdemont heads back to Belgium to continue with Catalan independence cause

Catalonia's deposed president Carles Puigdemont returns to Belgium on Saturday to keep pressing for his region's independence after a Spanish judge dropped a European arrest warrant for him.

Puigdemont heads back to Belgium to continue with Catalan independence cause
Got to rush: Puigdemont can return to Belgium as he no longer runs the risk of extradition to Spain. Photo: AFP

“My political activity will be based in Belgium, of course with the aim of pursuing the mandate by the people” for an independent Catalonia, Puigdemont said in Berlin when he announced his return this week.

Four months after he was detained in Germany at Madrid's request, Puigdemont can return to Belgium as he no longer runs the risk of extradition to Spain after the Spanish court cancelled the warrant.

The 55-year-old former regional leader, with his signature shaggy Beatles-style mop, will continue to fight for Catalan independence south of Brussels in the town of Waterloo, which is known for another battle — French emperor Napoleon's defeat by a mix of European forces in 1815.

Sacked as Catalan president after a failed secession bid on October 27, Puigdemont and several members of his executive fled to Brussels several days later.

He was then arrested in Germany at the end of March on his return from a trip to Finland.

Puigdemont was freed on bail around 10 days later and set about waiting for a German court decision on an extradition request by Spain, where he is wanted over his role in the independence drive.

But the German court ruled that he could be extradited only on possible corruption charges and not for “rebellion” as sought by Madrid but which is not recognised under German law.

Following that decision, Spain's Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, in charge of the case against separatist leaders, dropped the international arrest warrant.

– Welcoming party –

From Belgium, Puigdemont will be able to travel where he likes, save Spain where he is still wanted for rebellion, which carries up to 25 years in jail, and for misuse of public funds.

In theory, he could remain in self-exile for 20 years, which in Spain's legal system is the time limit after which the rebellion charge would no longer be valid.

Puigdemont is set to be greeted by a welcoming party comprising members of Catalonia's government as well as other pro-independence organisations.

Puigdemont will hold a news conference with his designated successor Quim Torra, who still considers him to be the “legitimate president” of Catalonia, at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Saturday.

He will then head to Waterloo for a ceremony at 4:00 pm.

Puigdemont intends to set up a “Republican council” at his home in Waterloo, as well as an assembly composed of local officials to work in parallel with the Catalan government.

– 'Time for action' –

Although power is now officially in the Torra's hands, Puigdemont continues to exert strong influence in the region.

In an illustration of Puigdemont's influence, he managed to reverse his party's stance for greater openness for dialogue with Madrid.

“In Brussels, we will continue… to develop activities linked to that which the people of Catalonia approved on October 1,” said Puigdemont, in reference to the referendum that was banned by Spain's courts and marred by police violence.

“It's no longer a Spanish affair that can be resolved internally; a European view is necessary for the Catalonia question,” said the region's former president, who expects to travel to other European countries to push his case.

Besides Puigdemont, five other leading members of his pro-independence movement are in Belgium, Switzerland and Scotland.

Torra met Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in early July, with the socialist leader promising to find a way out of the crisis.

Puigdemont wants Sanchez to allow a referendum on the question of independence for Catalonia — something that the prime minister has refused categorically.

He also wants Spain to release nine separatists.

“The change in Spain's government is supposed to come with a change in style and climate… but it's not the time for gestures, it's the time for action,” he said.

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CATALONIA

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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