BERLIN  - German police on Sunday arrested Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont as he crossed the border with Denmark by car, after Spain’s Supreme Court vowed to prosecute key separatists over their breakaway bid.

The arrest comes five months after Puigdemont went on the run as Spanish prosecutors sought to charge him in the wake of a vote by the Catalan parliament to declare independence.

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”.

In Barcelona, thousands of people - many carrying Catalan separatist flags - marched in protest against the arrest, chanting “Puigdemont our president” and “Freedom for the political prisoners”.

Some protesters threw rubbish bins at Catalan police, who responded by beating demonstrators with their batons or firing warning shots in the air.

Puigdemont’s arrest is the latest chapter in a secession saga that has bitterly divided Catalans and triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Puigdemont “was arrested today (Sunday) at 11:19 am by Schleswig-Holstein’s highway patrol force,” a German police spokesman told AFP, adding that the detention was based on a European warrant.

The former Catalan leader will be brought before a judge on Monday to “verify the identity of the person arrested,” German prosecutors said separately, adding that the court will then decide if he is to remain in custody pending extradition proceedings.

The arrest comes two days after Spain’s supreme court issued international arrest warrants for 13 Catalan separatists including Puigdemont and his nominated successor Jordi Turull over their role in the region’s failed bid for independence. The court said they would be prosecuted for “rebellion”, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Nine of the 13 face charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds. The other four are wanted for rebellion only. Twelve more face less serious charges like disobedience. Issuing the warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, Judge Pablo Llarena accused the ousted Catalan leader of organising an independence referendum in October last year despite a ban from Madrid.

The vote had been swiftly followed by the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence on October 27. As Spanish authorities moved in to impose direct rule over the region, Puigdemont and four other deputies fled to Belgium. Hours after Puigdemont was detained in Germany, a spokesman from Police Scotland said one of these deputies, Clara Ponsati, who has since gone to Scotland and is one of the 13 wanted for both rebellion and misuse of public funds, was “making arrangements” to surrender to authorities there. Puigdemont had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him.

Puigdemont’s party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa said the arrest “happened as he crossed the Danish-German border”. Puigdemont’s lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, added on Twitter that he was picked up by German police as he was travelling back to Belgium to “present himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian courts”. Spanish police said the arrest came thanks to a “coordinated operation between police and the CNI”, Spain’s intelligence agency.

German authorities have 60 days to decide whether to extradite Puigdemont to Spain.


Elsa Artadi, a spokeswoman for Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party, said that he should fight his extradition to Spain.

“Spain does not guarantee a fair trial; only revenge and repression,” she wrote on Twitter.

In Barcelona, thousands answered a call by hardcore separatists, the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), to protest against Puigdemont’s arrest.

“What they are doing these days is totally disproportionate, we are being treated like criminals for wanting independence,” Rosa Vela, a 60-year-old teacher, told AFP.

Albert Rivera, the leader of the centrist party Ciudadanos which was set up in Catalonia to fight against separatism, welcomed Puigdemont’s arrest.

“The flight of the coup leader Puigdemont is over. Trying to destroy a European democracy, bypassing democratic laws, breaking up coexistence or misusing public money cannot enjoy impunity....”

While separatist parties won Catalonia’s regional elections in December called by Madrid, they have been unable to form a government as they have picked candidates are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.

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

That marks the third time that parliament has been thwarted in its bid to nominate a new president.

After Puigdemont was forced to withdraw his bid for the presidency as he could not return to Spain without facing arrest, another pro-independence leader Jordi Sanchez followed suit when a judge refused to let him out of jail to be sworn in.

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.