BARCELONA (Reuters) – Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, will run in the May 26 election to the European Parliament as the leading candidate of Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), his political party announced on Sunday.
Puigdemont, 56, fled Spain in October 2017 after Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia. The wealthy northeastern region had unilaterally declared independence on the basis of a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish courts.
“It is the moment to make another step to internationalise the self-determination right of Catalonia from Europe’s heart to all the world,” Puigdemont said on Twitter.
Puigdemont and five other former Catalan leaders in self-imposed exile in European countries would be arrested if they returned to Spain. Puigdemont, who was the Catalan president for about 22 months, faces charges of rebellion in Spain.
Last July, Spanish courts lifted the European arrest warrants for Puigdemont after a German court ruled that he could be extradited to Spain to face a separate charge of misuse of public funds, but not for the rebellion charge, something that Spain decided not to accept.
From Belgium, Puigdemont ran again for office in the December 2017 Catalan regional elections and was proposed for president by a parliamentary majority, but Spanish courts banned his attempt to assume office from outside the country.
Oriol Junqueras, leader of the pro-independence party ERC who is on trial in Madrid with 11 other Catalan politicians for their role in the 2017 secession drive, will also run in the European election.
(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Janet Lawrence)