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Spain repeats election as Catalan crisis boosts far right

November 08, 2019

MADRID (AP) — Spain is holding its fourth general election in as many years — and the second this year — amid voter distrust and a renewed Catalan independence bid that has bolstered the far right. The latest polls in Spanish media hint at a close finish between the blocs on the right and left, suggesting that Sunday’s vote — amid increasing fragmentation and polarization — won’t help dispel the country’s political stalemate.

Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists appeared poised to again win the most seats in Parliament but fewer even than they won in April, when the interim prime minister was unable to get the support of his left-wing rivals to keep his party in power.

Repeated elections make it even harder to win over voters, said political analyst Pablo Simón, a professor at Carlos III University. “The public opinion is angry at the electoral repeat, with record levels of discontent toward the political class and great pessimism over how the economy will perform next year,” he said.

The incumbent is up against five other men for the job as prime minister. In recent days, he has tried to lure undecided and centrist voters by saying he will focus his next term on economic issues and by toughening his stand on Catalan separatists.

He has, for example, promised to bring back prison terms for those who hold banned referendums for independence, overturning a previous Socialist position. “If we want a strong government against precariousness and blockade, a progressive government against the extreme right, and a moderate government against the extremists, here is the Socialist party,” Sánchez said Friday, wrapping up an eight-day campaign in Barcelona.

The Catalan capital has been hit by a wave of mass protests, at times violent, after nine leaders of the wealthy region’s separatist movement were sentenced to prison for an attempt to break away from Spain two years ago.

The turbulence has fueled support in the rest of Spain for Sánchez’s opposition — the conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox, whose leader ended the campaign calling for voters to support his “patriotic alternative” to oust the Socialist leader.

Even if Sánchez succeeds in rallying support from the anti-austerity United We Can and its new splinter, More Country, a Socialist cabinet likely will need either the backing of small regional parties or for the right-wing opposition to abstain.

The eurozone’s No. 4 economy has been functioning without a stable government since mid-2018, when Sánchez ousted the graft-tainted conservatives in a parliamentary confidence vote. The center-left minority government then crumbled in less than a year after losing the parliamentary support of regionalist parties.

Sánchez’s Socialists went from 85 to 123 seats in the late April election. But he needed support from an absolute majority, or 176 of 350 lawmakers, and a falling out with United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias left him without enough votes.

The latest polls show both of those left-wing parties could lose ground. The Popular Party, meanwhile, is recovering after losing more than half of its parliamentary representation in April, falling to 66 seats. Polls show the conservatives could win more seats in this election. But leader Pablo Casado’s chances to form government are lower than Sánchez’s, given that the party’s natural ally, the center-right Citizens, isn’t expected to do well.

“We cannot divide efforts, we cannot fragment all the momentum of change that Spain has,” Casado said before some 3,000 followers gathered for the final rally at the Madrid bullring. But the party benefiting most so far from the Catalan crisis has been Vox, with its mix of Spanish nationalism and populism.

In addition to calling for deposing Catalonia of its self-government powers and outlawing regional separatist parties, Vox has stepped up its anti-immigration rhetoric. The party has released campaign videos linking migrants with criminality, and its leaders have held rallies outside centers where authorities care for unaccompanied teenage migrants.

Vox won 24 seats in April, less than what polls had predicted but still an unprecedented victory for the far right, which had been on the fringes of the political mainstream since the end of Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. This time, surveys predict Vox will win at least 40 seats in the Congress of Deputies.

The party now supports minority coalition governments of the Popular Party and Citizens in the regions of Madrid, Andalusia and Murcia, and its support was key for many other local governments, said Bonnie Field, a professor on Global Studies at Bentley University.

“If the right parties pulled out a surprise victory on Sunday, this arrangement would certainly be on the table,” Field said. Turnout is expected to be low in Sunday’s election, something that generally has benefited right-wing parties. But she noted that the Socialists succeeded in mobilizing voters in April by stirring the “fear of the radical right and the possibility of a right-wing government that depended on them.”

“We’ll have to see if that works again,” she added.

Police, protesters clash outside Barcelona-Real Madrid game

December 18, 2019

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Riot police clashed with protesters in the streets Wednesday night outside a soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, as authorities sought to keep Catalonia’s separatist movement from disrupting the game viewed by 650 million people worldwide.

The match in Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium began without incident and was halted only briefly when some fans threw balls onto the field bearing a message for the Spanish government to open a dialogue with the separatists.

The game, which drew nearly 100,000 spectators, ended in a scoreless draw. Thousands of police and private security guards were deployed in and around stadium. In the street clashes, riot police used batons to force the crowd back, some threw objects at officers lined up behind shields and other protesters fought among themselves. Authorities said nine people had been arrested, and Spain’s national news agency Efe reported that 12 were injured.

At least four plastic trash cans were set on fire, and a smell of smoke wafted into the Camp Nou. When the game ended, fans were directed to leave on the stadium’s south side to avoid the clashes outside.

The separatists sought to promote their independence bid by using the media coverage of the game between Barcelona, the Spanish league leader, and its fierce rival Real Madrid. Known as El Clásico, the game was postponed from Oct. 26 amid violent protests by the separatists.

As crowds entered Europe’s largest soccer stadium Wednesday night, security guards confiscated masks of Barcelona’s Argentine star Lionel Messi from supporters, apparently to ensure they could be identified on closed-circuit cameras if they broke the law.

As the game began, some fans held up blue signs saying ‘Spain, Sit and Talk” and “FREEDOM.” Others chanted, in Catalan, “Freedom for the Political Prisoners.” Those messages referred to the Spanish government’s refusal to discuss the wealthy northeastern region’s independence, as well as the recent imprisonment of nine of the movement’s leaders convicted for their roles in a failed 2017 secession bid.

A shadowy online group called Tsunami Democratic, which was behind the protest, had posted a message on social media saying: “Hello, world! Tonight Tsunami has a message for you.” Protest organizers said over 25,000 people signed up to demonstrate near the stadium in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, although it was hard to distinguish between protesters and fans.

There was a festive atmosphere before the game, though some protesters briefly blocked main roads to the stadium. The Barcelona team asked its fans to behave with civility and not to affect the match.

Francisco Sánchez, a 60-year-old mechanic, was outside Camp Nou hours before the match. He did not have a ticket, but was one of several protesters who distributed small blue banners with the message urging Spain to begin a dialogue.

“I hope this movement will make our leaders realize that they have to lay off the law and start taking,” he said. “This can’t be solved with violence, but through words.” Miguel Ángel Giménez, a 42-year-old policeman in a Barcelona shirt and scarf, drove with a friend over 700 kilometers (430 miles) from the southern region of Murcia to attend the match.

“Our friends back home told us we were crazy to cross half of Spain to go to a game that might not be played,” he said, adding that “everything is quite calm. There is lots of security.” The U.S. Consulate in Barcelona advised people to avoid the area or use caution if near it.

Henrik Noerrelund, a 55-year-old electrician from Denmark, flew in with his wife to attend his first Barcelona match after a lifetime supporting the club. “In my parts, they used to say politics and football don´t mix, but today you have to accept it,” Noerrelund said. “It’s there, you cannot separate it, you have seen it for many years, and I don’t think they can manage to separate it and just play football.”

Separatist sentiment grew sharply in Catalonia during the global recession that hit Spain hard. The 7.5 million residents of Catalonia are about equally divided by the secession question, according to polls and election results.

Separatists have used the Camp Nou stadium as a protest platform for years. They shout “Independence!” at a set time during matches and sometimes unfurl banners. The Barcelona team has walked a fine line between supporting its fans’ right to free expression and aligning itself with the greater interests of Catalonia. Many feel it does not fully support secession so as not to anger its Catalan fans who are not separatists or its millions of supporters across Spain.

With its slogan “More than a club,” it presents itself as a Catalan institution, aligned with the region’s proud cultural traditions and language, which is spoken along with Spanish in the semi-autonomous region.

Its rivalry with Real Madrid has a decades-old political undercurrent, with many Catalans seeing the capital’s team as a symbol of domineering, central power and a hallmark of Spanish unity and authority.

Madrid supporters, in turn, see Barcelona as representing a traitorous region that wants to break up Spain. For many years, some Barcelona fans held up a massive banner at games that read “Catalonia is not Spain.”

Players from both teams usually get along. The Spanish national team that won the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships was packed with players from both sides. Security is always high whenever they play — just like at many soccer matches between fierce rivals — but there is no history of violence at the games.

Tsunami Democratic carried out its first major action in October when it organized a large protest after several of the secession movement’s leaders were sentenced to jail for their role in a failed secession bid in 2017.

A call by Tsunami Democratic led to thousands of angry protesters gathering at Barcelona’s airpor t. A street battle broke out between the most radical protesters and police inside and outside the terminal, and about 150 flights were canceled as ground transport was halted for hours. Protests by separatists left more than 500 people injured, half of them police.

Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press writers Joseph Wilson in Barcelona and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed.

Police clash with Catalan separatists in Barcelona

November 10, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Police in Barcelona have briefly clashed with Catalan separatists who are protesting a rally by Spain’s national police forces in the Mediterranean city. Catalan regional police used batons to drive back a group of separatists in the city center Saturday, stopping them from advancing toward a march by an association of Spain’s national police forces demanding higher pay.

In September, a similar protest by separatists of another march by the same national police association ended in clashes with regional security forces. The violent run-ins left 14 people injured and six arrests.

Spain has been mired in a political crisis since last year, when Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers failed in a breakaway bid. Polls and recent elections show that the wealthy northeastern region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

Catalan leader issues ultimatum over independence vote

October 02, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Catalan regional president Quim Torra issued an ultimatum to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday over the wealthy northeastern region’s future. It was promptly rejected by the Spanish government.

Torra indicated he could deny Sanchez the votes he needs to approve the national budget in Spain’s parliament unless the government proposes by next month an independence referendum in Catalonia. Failure to get a budget passed could spell the end of Sanchez’s four-month-old administration and bring a snap election.

Torra, a leading secessionist, said in a speech in Barcelona that Catalan separatist parties won’t back Sanchez in parliament if their demand for a vote on self-determination is not met. “Our patience … is not endless,” Torra said. “If a proposal to exercise self-determination in an agreed, binding and internationally recognized way is not on the table by November, the independence movement cannot guarantee for Mr. Sanchez any kind of stability in parliament.”

Madrid rejected Torra’s demand later Tuesday. “The Spanish government does not accept ultimatums,” government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said, urging Torra to open a dialogue between Catalans who favor independence and those who oppose it.

“The proposal that unites is coexistence, not independence,” she said. The ultimatum was aimed directly at Sanchez’s growing predicament over his center-left Socialist government’s spending plans for 2019.

The minority government holds just 84 of the 350 seats in the country’s lower house. That means it is relying on the expected support of other parties, including those supporting Catalan secession, to pass its state budget.

Catalan separatists clash with police as tensions mount

September 29, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Clashes between Catalan separatists and police in Barcelona left 14 people injured and led to six arrests Saturday as tensions boiled over days before the anniversary of the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession, which ended in violent raids by security forces.

Separatists tossed and sprayed colored powder at police officers, filling the air with a thick rainbow cloud and covering anti-riot shields and police vans. Some protesters threw eggs and other objects and engaged with the police line, which used batons to keep them back.

The clashes erupted after local Catalan police intervened to form a barrier when a separatist threw purple paint on a man who was part of another march of people in support of Spanish police demanding a pay raise. Officers used batons to keep the opposing groups apart.

There were more confrontations as the separatists tried to enter Barcelona’s main city square where 3,000 people supporting Spanish police had ended their march. Separatists shouted “Get out of here, fascists!” and “Independence!” at the Spanish police supporters, who responded by shouting “We will be victorious!” and “Our cause is just!”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau pleaded for peace when the first scuffles broke out. “I make a call for calm,” Colau told Catalunya Radio. “This city has always defended that everyone can exercise their rights to free speech.”

The Catalan police told The Associated Press that the six arrests were made on charges of aggressions against police officers. The investigation was continuing. One police officer was hurt, although it was not immediately clear if the officer was among the 14 people reported by health authorities as needing medical treatment. Three were taken to hospital while the others were attended to on the street.

There were ugly episodes between members of the opposing groups. An AP photographer saw a group of several people who had come to support the Spanish police being chased by a mob of around 100 separatists, some of whom tried to kick and trip the supporters before they could reach the safety of local police. Separately, a woman punched a man who supports Catalan secession in the face before police could separate them.

The pro-police march had originally planned to end in another square home to the regional and municipal government seats but 6,000 separatists, according to local police, gathered in the square to force regional authorities to alter the march’s route. Some separatists arrived the night before and camped out in the square.

“The separatists are kicking us out,” said national police officer Ibon Dominguez, who attended the march. “They are kicking the national police and Guardia Civil out of the streets of our own country.”

The police march was organized by the police association JUSAPOL, which wants Spain’s two nationwide police forces, the national police and Civil Guard, to be paid as much as Catalonia’s regional police.

JUSAPOL holds marches in cities across Spain, but Saturday’s march in Barcelona comes two days before Catalonia’s separatists plan to remember last year’s referendum on secession held by the regional government despite its prohibition by the nation’s top court.

That Oct. 1 referendum was marred when national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters, injuring hundreds. JUSAPOL spokesman Antonio Vazquez told Catalan television TV3 that while the march’s goal was to demand better salaries, they also wanted to support the national police and Civil Guard officers who had been ordered to dismantle the referendum.

“The national police and Civil Guard agents who acted last year were doing their duty and now they are under pressure and we have to support them,” Vazquez said. Last year’s police operation that failed to stop the referendum has become a rallying call for Catalonia’s separatists, who point to it as evidence of Spain’s mistreatment of the wealthy region that enjoys an ample degree of self-rule.

“Outrageous! They shouldn’t be here. They came here to hit us a year ago and today they want to make an homage to that. It is pathetic,” said secession supporter Montse Romero. Pro-secession lawmaker Vidal Aragones of the extreme left CUP party called the police march an “insult to the Catalan people.”

While Catalonia has seen huge political rallies take place without incident for several years, two weeks ago police had to intervene to keep apart rallies by Catalan separatists and Spanish unionists in Barcelona, the region’s capital.

Catalonia’s separatist-led government is asking Spain’s central authorities to authorize a binding vote on secession. Last year’s illegal vote led to an ineffective declaration of independence by Catalonia’s parliament that gained no international recognition and triggered a months-long takeover by central authorities.

Polls and recent elections show that the region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

AP video journalist Renata Brito and AP photographer Daniel Cole contributed to this report.

Tension mounts in Catalonia over separatists’ yellow ribbons

September 05, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A twisted strip of yellow plastic has become the biggest weapon for Catalonia’s separatists in their struggle with those who want to protect the integrity of Spain. On any given evening, small groups of Catalan separatists gather to tie these yellow ribbons to benches, traffic posts and trash cans — or paint their likeness on sidewalks — across Barcelona and hundreds of neighboring towns and villages.

For activist Silvia Pla and her cohorts, the ribbon is a symbol of protest at the imprisonment of nine high-profile separatist leaders while they await trial on charges that include rebellion, for their role in an illegal referendum and ineffective declaration of independence last year.

The cause of freeing the jailed leaders, many of whom were members of the previous Catalan government, has become the burning issue for secessionists after they saw their breakaway bid collapse when it received no international support.

Pla, a 56-year-old illustrator of children’s books who lives in the town of Cardedeu, told The Associated Press that she puts up the ribbons “to show that we will never accept” the secessionist leaders remaining behind bars.

But the littering of town squares, bridges and streets with the yellow ribbons has given life to a counter movement drawn from the other half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents — the ones who want to maintain centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain.

Jose Casado is the spokesman for a loosely knit network of self-proclaimed “cleaning brigades.” They are volunteers who meet a few times a month to scour their neighborhoods and remove as many of the yellow ribbons as they can find on public property. They use box cutters and tree pruners to snip off the ribbons, but have a rule not to touch the pro-secession flags and banners that hang from the balconies of private homes.

“What they call claiming public space in the name of the ‘political prisoners,’ for us is exactly the opposite,” Casado, a 38-year-old boxing instructor from the coastal town of Mataro, told the AP. “These people have hurt Catalonia and tried to carry out a coup. They are supporting people who have made families fight amongst themselves.”

The cleaners do their work at night, wearing full white body suits and covering their faces with hygienic masks and protective goggles, partly to conceal their identity and partly to make a statement.

“The moment that (separatist activists) know who are you, they mark the door of your house, they throw paint on your car and spread your personal information on social media,” Casado claimed. Divided by ideology, the two sides nonetheless resemble one another; both groups have sprung up over the past year on a local level, driven by social media and mobile-phone messaging services.

They also share a deep sense of aggrievement — the separatists feel abused by the central government and courts; the unionists feel demonized by the regional Catalan authorities. The cleaning brigades argue that they are filling a gap left by Catalan authorities who have allowed the supporters of secession to turn common space into an echo chamber for their ideas.

Like many secessionists, Catalonia’s regional president, Quim Torra, always wears a yellow ribbon, in his case pinned to the lapel of a dark suit. Large yellow ribbons hang from both the seat of the Catalan government and the Barcelona town hall that face one another in the center of the region’s capital, and municipal street cleaners often do not remove the ribbons from public property.

“We shouldn’t be doing this work, because it is work,” Casado said. “You lose hours of sleep, of time with your family. It isn’t fair. It is favoring one side.” So far, ugly run-ins between adversaries have mostly produced heated debates and the exchange of verbal insults. But three people were hurt in a clash last May in the coastal town of Canet de Mar when Casado’s group tried to remove a bunch of yellow crosses that pro-secession activists had planted on the beach. Both sides blamed the other for the scuffle.

Also, last month a woman filed charges with the police claiming she was hit by a man who was angry at her for removing yellow ribbons in Barcelona. In an open letter published in the newspaper El Periodico last month, Torra called the groups that take down the ribbons “violent fascists” and said the regional Catalan police should “prevent these masked, violent and intolerant individuals from believing they can act with impunity.”

Citing these statements by Torra and other evidence, Spain’s state prosecutor’s office has opened a probe into the alleged identification by Catalan police of people who have removed ribbons. State prosecutor Jose Maria Segarra has said that her office believes that both putting up and taking down the ribbons is protected under freedom of expression.

This simmering tension is expected to get worse in this well-off corner of Spain. Leading politicians on the center-right have recently joined in the removal of the ribbons, accusing Spain’s Socialist government of being soft on the separatists.

Torra, who before becoming a lawmaker published virulent anti-Spanish views that his critics call xenophobic, has called on secessionists to crank up their activities over coming weeks to mark the anniversary of the failed secession attempt last October, and to prepare for what will likely be massive protests when the jailed leaders are tried.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who inherited the Catalan crisis from his conservative predecessor, is trying to calm tensions by meeting with Torra in October after an initial meet in July.

“We know that this fall is going to heat up,” Pla said. “The trials will make people come back on the street and keep up the struggle.”

Catalonia gets new leader determined to achieve independence

May 17, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Fervent Catalan secessionist Quim Torra was sworn in Thursday as the restive Spanish region’s new leader, with his demands for an independent Catalonia set to prolong a standoff with Spain’s national government.

Torra formally took office at a ceremony in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. He was elected by the Catalan parliament’s secessionist lawmakers on Monday. In a sign of the simmering tension, Spain’s national government in Madrid, which usually sends a representative to regional government ceremonies, declined to attend the swearing-in. It said Catalan authorities had tried to dictate which central government officials could be present — a condition that Madrid rejected.

The spat over Catalonia’s future has brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, though its three main political parties stand united against Catalan independence. Thursday’s ceremony was heavy on symbolism, with pointed signals apparently aimed at the central Spanish authorities.

Torra had only the red-and-yellow Catalan flag behind him during the ceremony. The Spanish flag was absent. Also, in his oath he pledged only to be faithful to the people of Catalonia. He made no reference to upholding the Spanish Constitution nor loyalty to Spain’s king. The Spanish government says it cannot grant Catalonia independence, among other reasons, because the Constitution says Spain is “indivisible.” King Felipe VI has publicly supported the government’s stance.

Torra also wore a yellow ribbon in his lapel, symbolizing support for separatist leaders being held in Spanish jails over last year’s outlawed independence referendum and illegal declaration of a separate Catalan state.

Huge rally in Barcelona to demand jailed separatists go free

April 15, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Catalan separatists rallied in downtown Barcelona on Sunday to demand the release of high-profile secessionist leaders being held in pre-trial detention.

Protesters waved Catalan separatist flags behind a huge banner that read “for rights and liberties, for democracy and unity, we want them back home!” The demonstration was organized by two pro-independence grassroots groups, the National Catalan Assembly and Omnium, whose presidents are among the nine separatists in prison awaiting trial for their roles in last year’s failed breakaway bid by the northeastern Spanish region.

The regional chapters of Spain’s two leading labor unions, along with other civil society groups, supported the protest despite the complaints from some members who don’t want secession for Catalonia. Barcelona police said 315,000 people participated in the protest.

“The majority of Catalans, regardless of their political position, agree that pre-trial jail is not justified,” said regional UGT union leader Camil Ros. “What we as labor unions are asking for now is dialogue.”

The secession movement in the wealthy region has plunged Spain into its deepest institutional crisis in decades. Separatist lawmakers defied court orders and held an ad-hoc referendum on independence in October. Their subsequent declaration of independence for the region led to a crackdown by Spanish authorities acting to defend the Spanish Constitution, which declares the nation “indivisible.”

Pro-independence parties retained a slim majority in Catalonia’s parliament after an election in December, but courts have blocked their attempts to elect as regional chief any lawmaker who is either behind bars or has fled the country.

The latest opinion poll published by the Catalan government in February said that support for independence had decreased to 40 percent from near 49 percent in October. The poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Catalan ex-leader to leave German prison after posting bail

April 06, 2018

NEUMUENSTER, Germany (AP) — German prosecutors on Friday ordered the immediate release of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont after he posted 75,000 euros ($92,000) bail, which will allow him to move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition sought by Spain.

The Schleswig prosecutor’s office said Puigdemont also provided authorities with an address in Germany where he will reside pending the decision. “No information will be provided about his current whereabouts,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Lawyers for Puigdemont had arrived at the Neumuenster prison early Friday but it wasn’t immediately clear how and when the 55-year-old would leave jail. Supporters said Puigdemont planned a news conference later Friday.

Puigdemont was detained by German police March 25 after crossing the border from Denmark. Spain is seeking his extradition for rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

The state court in Schleswig ruled Thursday that Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion because the equivalent German law presumes the use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities. He can still be extradited on misuse of funds charges.

The German court’s decision is a setback for the Spanish judiciary’s efforts to crack down on the separatist movement. It is also an embarrassing blow for Spain’s conservative government, which has insisted the dispute over Catalan separatism is a legal issue, not a political one, and has refused to be drawn into negotiations with Puigdemont and his supporters since October’s banned referendum.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government would respect the German ruling and awaited further details of it before deciding on appropriate action. She also took a swipe at the Catalan pro-independence parties, which the government accuses of flouting the Constitution and disobeying court orders, by adding that Spain is “a state that is shows its character by respecting the decisions of the courts in whatever direction that decision is made.”

German court orders Catalan ex-leader’s release on bail

April 06, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A German court ruled Thursday that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail pending a decision on his extradition to Spain, finding that the most serious accusation against him isn’t punishable under German law.

The state court in the northern town of Schleswig said it set conditions including a 75,000-euro ($92,000) payment for the 55-year-old to leave prison. It wasn’t immediately clear when he would be released, though it appeared unlikely before Friday morning.

“We will see each other tomorrow. Thank you all!” a message posted on his Twitter feed read. Puigdemont was detained on a European arrest warrant shortly after entering Germany on March 25. He was trying to drive from Finland to Belgium, where has been living since fleeing to escape arrest in Spain. He has been held at a prison in Neumuenster.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain. German prosecutors argued earlier this week that the main charge of rebellion is equivalent to Germany’s criminal offense of treason. German law calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the republic’s existence or change its constitutional order.

However, the court disagreed Thursday, saying Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion. It found that the accusations against Puigdemont don’t satisfy the precedents set by previous German rulings, which call for a use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities.

“Rebellion is the most serious, having the heaviest punishment. It means that if he is extradited for other things, that he can never be prosecuted for rebellion in Spain,” Puigdemont’s Belgian defense lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said.

“Again a signal has been sent to Spain’s justice system that they are going the wrong way,” he told Belgium’s VRT network. Judges will consider Puigdemont’s extradition on the less serious charge of misusing public funds, meaning that he only could face trial for that if he were returned to Spain. They said that there was no indication he could be “exposed to the danger of political persecution.”

The court said that because Puigdemont can’t extradited for rebellion he posed less of a flight risk and could be released on bail. If Puigdemont makes the bail payment and leaves prison, he can’t leave Germany without prosecutors’ approval, must inform prosecutors of every change of residence and report to police once a week, court spokeswoman Frauke Holmer said.

In response to the German court’s ruling, a Spanish official said the government in Madid respects judicial decisions “always, when it likes them and when it doesn’t.” The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said “Spanish justice will adopt the appropriate measures in the face of these new circumstances.”

In Brussels, three fugitive allies of Puigdemont were held briefly Thursday before being conditionally released by Belgian judicial authorities to await a decision on whether they should be extradited to Spain.

Isabel Mateos, a retiree attending a protest in the Catalan town of Figueres to call for the release of jailed separatists, reacted with joy to the news. “Truth to be told, we didn’t expect it,” she said. “We are totally happy and we’ll celebrate it.”

Earlier Thursday, the Spanish National Court charged the former head of Catalonia’s regional police and other regional security officials with sedition over their role in events leading to the banned referendum on independence.

Judge Carmen Lamela said in an indictment that Mossos d’Esquadra chief Josep Lluis Trapero was part of an organized plan to seek Catalonia’s secession, which courts have forbidden because the constitution says Spain is “indivisible.”

Trapero was hailed in Catalonia as a local hero for the handling of deadly extremist attacks in and near Barcelona last summer. But he then came under severe pressure when Spanish national authorities asked his regional police force to help prevent the Oct. 1 referendum, which triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Trapero was demoted when the Spanish government assumed direct rule of the region. Two other members of the regional police and an official with the regional interior department were also indicted Thursday.

Catalonia has been without a president or regional government since a regional election in December which produced a slim majority of pro-independence lawmakers in the Catalan parliament. Efforts to form a government have been hampered by internal discord within the separatist bloc and the legal challenges faced by presidential candidates.

Aritz Parra in Madrid, Raf Casert in Brussels and Renata Brito in Figueres, Spain contributed to this report.

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