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Italy court suspends ex-Catalan leader case pending EU ruling

An Italian court on Monday suspended proceedings against exiled ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who was arrested in Sardinia on a Spanish extradition warrant, pending the outcome of European rulings, his lawyer said.

Catalonia's exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont leaves on October 4, 2021 the Sassari courthouse in Sardinia, Italy, after attending his extradition hearing.
Catalonia's exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont leaves on October 4, 2021 the Sassari courthouse in Sardinia, Italy, after attending his extradition hearing. - The Sassari court suspended proceedings against Puigdemont pending EU ruling, his lawyer said. (Photo by Gianni BIDDAU / AFP)

The 58-year-old was briefly detained on the island on September 23 on a European warrant issued by Madrid over his role in Catalonia’s failed independence bid in 2017.

But his lawyers insist he has immunity as a member of the European Parliament.

This immunity was lifted earlier this year, but Puigdemont is appealing.

The court in Sassari “has suspended the case pending the decision on two preliminary questions before the European court”, namely that of Puigdemont’s immunity and the extradition request, his Italian lawyer Agostinangelo Marras said after a hearing Monday.

Puigdemont was greeted by supporters shouting “Freedom! Freedom!” and waving Catalan independence flags outside the court, where he was accompanied by two former Catalan regional ministers, Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, who are also wanted by Spain.

Puigdemont led efforts by Catalonia’s separatist regional government to stage an independence referendum in October 2017 despite a ban by Madrid.

The vote was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the Catalan administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political crisis that prompted Puigdemont and several others to flee.

Those who stayed behind were arrested and put on trial, with nine of them jailed for between nine and 13 years.

Although they were pardoned earlier this year, Madrid still wants Puigdemont and the others to face justice over the secession bid.

Catalonia's exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont (R), escorted by Catalan economist and member of the European Parliament, Clara Ponsati
Catalonia’s exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont (R), escorted by Catalan economist and member of the European Parliament, Clara Ponsati. Photo: Gianni BIDDAU / AFP

‘No reason’ for detention

Puigdemont’s arrest last month, on a trip as MEP to a cultural festival in the town of Alghero — a Catalan enclave in Sardinia — was his third since fleeing Spain.

The first was when he arrived in Brussels and the second was in Germany in March 2018, when the courts took nearly four months to return him to full freedom.

Puigdemont enjoyed immunity for a time after being elected an MEP in 2019, but that was lifted by the European Parliament in March in a decision upheld in July by the EU’s General Court.

However, he, Comin and Ponsati are appealing the European Parliament’s decision. A final ruling by the EU court remains pending.

On Friday, Puigdemont’s legal team said he was seeking an emergency injunction with the EU General Court to retain his immunity.

Both Comin and Ponsati were in Sassari on Monday — arriving in Italy without being arrested — in a show of support for Puigdemont.

“We have immunity as MEPs. We have always said that there was no reason for the detention of president Puigdemont,” Comin told AFP.

His arrest, which sparked protests in the Catalan capital Barcelona, came barely a week after the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Relations have thawed significantly since Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist from the left-wing ERC, was elected as Catalan leader in May, taking the helm of the region’s separatist-dominated coalition.

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POLITICS

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Qatar's emir began a state visit to Spain on Tuesday as Europe seeks to diversify its natural gas supply sources to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was welcomed by King Felipe VI at Madrid’s royal palace at the start of his two-day visit, his first to Spain since he ascended the throne in 2013.

The emir, who is accompanied by Qatar’s foreign and energy ministers, is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday.

Spain and Qatar are expected to sign a dozen economic and commercial contracts during his visit, mainly regarding energy, according to a Spanish government source.

The visit comes as the European Union is aiming to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year due to Russia’s invasion of  Ukraine.

Russia currently supplies around 40 percent of Europe’s gas needs.

Qatar, which has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world, is currently Spain’s fifth-biggest supplier of natural gas after the United States, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt.

The country accounted for 4.4 percent of Spain’s total gas imports in April and the Spanish government hopes this share could increase.

“We are working closely with out European counterparts” on the long-term supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Qatar’s ambassador to Spain, Abdullah Al-Hamar, told Spanish daily 20 Minutos.

The emir of Qatar’s trip to Europe will also include visits to Germany, Britain, Slovenia and Switzerland, where he will attend the World Economic Forum which will run in the mountain resort of Davos from May 22nd-26th.

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