Spain warns Belgium former Catalan leader could harm ties

Spain warns Belgium former Catalan leader could harm ties

Spain's foreign minister warned Thursday that deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's plan to govern the region remotely from Belgium could harm "friendly relations" between Madrid and Brussels.

"In theory, he can live a normal life in Belgium," Spanish FM Alfonso Dastis told AFP. But if he wants to "govern Catalonia remotely, then we will no doubt, at some point, question how long this can last without affecting the friendly relations of two partner states," he added. "It's clear that politically, it's not a comfortable situation for the Spanish government or for the Belgian one."

Puigdemont went to Belgium just days after the Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27, prompting Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to dissolve the assembly and call snap elections to try and nip secession in the bud.

Puigdemont left for Belgium just hours before he and other separatist leaders were charged over their role in Catalonia's independence drive. There, he organizes press conferences, records video statements and tries to mobilize support for his cause. When he arrived in Belgium, Puigdemont had already been sacked by Madrid as Catalan president along with the rest of his executive after the short-lived declaration of independence. Spain issued a European arrest warrant against Puigdemont but later dropped it, saying it would complicate the overall probe into the region's separatist leaders who are wanted for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds -- some of whom are already in jail.

Puigdemont was re-elected as lawmaker in December regional polls, and his Together for Catalonia grouping came first out of the three separatist parties, which means he is their candidate to rule the region again. Spain's Constitutional Court, however, has warned that Puigdemont needs to be present in the regional parliament to be officially reappointed and not in Belgium.

As such, separatists are currently locked in negotiations over how to form an effective regional government. The Catalan separatists had considered renaming Puigdemont as regional president remotely, without the need for him returning to the country. Catalonia's jailed former vice president Oriol Junqueras has suggested that Puigdemont could rule as a "symbolic" president with a fully functioning executive on site.

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