Former Catalan leader Puigdemont detained in Germany: Lawyer

Catalonian riot police members and protesters clash during a protest against the detention in Germany of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, at the Spanish Government Delegation in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, on Sunday.

Leaving Belgium had exposed him again to the risk of arrest.

Puigdemont was stopped by German police entering from Denmark.

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in three decades when Puigdemont's government flouted a court ban and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October.

The regional government claimed that 90% of those who voted (estimated at 43% of the population) were in favour of independence - but Spain's constitutional court later ruled the vote illegal.

German police arrested Mr Puigdemont as he was returning from Finland where he visited the national parliament earlier in the week.

Catalonia will continue to be under the direct rule of Madrid as long as there is no government. Reinforcements were called in after several hours to clear the neighbouring streets, with protestors tossing street barriers and burning two garbage bins as they retreated.

German news agency dpa said that Puigdemont was taken to a prison in the northern town of Neumuenster. He has been properly treated throughout and is right now in a police station.

"The sole objective of this appearance is to verify the identity of the person arrested", the regional tribunal in the town of Schleswig said in a statement.

Separately confirming his arrest in Germany, Puigdemont's party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa said: "It happened as he crossed the Danish-German border. He has not been arrested".

Puigdemont's detention puts his fate in the hands of German courts, which will have to decide whether to pass him to Spanish authorities to face charges of "rebellion and misuse of public funds".

Global warrants for Mr Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders were withdrawn in December by a Spanish judge, who said they had shown a willingness to return to the country. Arrest warrants have also been issued for five other Catalan separatists.

In reaction to the arrest, large protests have broken out in Catalonia, with tensions in some areas running high.

"We are going to continue to resist and fight to be free", said Julio Vallmitjana, a bearded 64-year-old pensioner who wore his white hair in a pony tail and stood a bit apart from the crowd. "This is a movement of the people, not of one person". The vast majority of voters backed secession.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's decision this week to prosecute the group of separatists has sunk the Catalan parliament deeper into a quagmire as its latest regional presidential candidate Jordi Turull was placed in custody over the breakaway bid.

The Supreme Court announced it would prosecute 13 key Catalan separatists for "rebellion", a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.

While separatist parties won Catalonia's regional elections in December called by Madrid, they have been unable to form a government for the region as numerous leaders are in exile overseas or in jail.

  • Tracy Klein