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Catalan leader in Belgium to make independence case to EU

By Ed Adamczyk
Catalan leader in Belgium to make independence case to EU
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, R, talks with vice president Oriol Junqueros, L, on Oct. 27 in Catalan parliament in Barcelona. Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Puigdemont said he was in Belgium to make Catalonia's case to the European Union and is not in search of asylum. Photo by Enrique Garcia/EPA-EFE

Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, charged with sedition, said in Brussels on Tuesday that he will not return to Spain unless a fair trial is guaranteed.

In his first press conference since he fled Spain after his breakaway Catalonia region declared independence, Puigdemont added he would not seek asylum in Belgium. He added that he and several Catalonian ministers were in Brussels to present Catalonia's case to the European Union.

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Restive Catalonia held a non-binding referendum on Oct. 1 in which 90 percent of voters chose independence. The Spanish government regarded the referendum as illegal, and ousted Puigdemont from Catalan government on Friday, the day the Catalan parliament declared a republic. Spain's top prosecutor filed a sedition charge against Puigdemont on Monday, and Puigdemont said he expects a trial to be unfair and biased..

Catalonia, its parliament and government formally dissolved, is now under direct Spanish rule, with the national government in Madrid now administering the region's affairs. A new regional election, to be held on Dec. 21 and approved by Puigdemont, has been called.

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In Brussels, Puigdemont said he would not accept violence as the price of independence, adding that he will not "pit my citizens against a wave of violence. We want to continue working as a government. We have before us a state [Spain] that only understands the reasoning of force to make us abandon our political project," he said. "The republic cannot be built on violence."

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He added that he would stay in Brussels until he is insured a fair process, for his trial and for Catalonia's future. "Then we would return immediately."

On Monday it was announced that Paul Bekaert was hired to provide legal advice to Puigdemont. Bekaert has a background in human rights cases and worked on numerous cases to stop the extradition to Spain of ETA members. The ETA, a Basque separatist group active in Spain in the 1990s, scattered to southern France and Belgium after cooperation between Spanish and French counterterrorism cooperation.

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"I have more than 30 years' experience in extradition and political asylum of Basque citizens, and that is probably why Puigdemont has called me," Bakaert said.

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