Carles Puigdemont, the ousted president of Catalonia who defied the Spanish state by declaring his region’s independence, has fled Spain to Brussels, fuelling speculation that he may seek political asylum in Belgium.
Sources from the Catalan government, which has been formally removed from power by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, told The Telegraph that Mr Puigdemont had travelled to the Belgian capital on Monday, reportedly accompanied by five colleagues from his former administration.
On Monday all 14 members of Mr Puigdemont’s ousted executive were accused by Spain’s chief prosecutor of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for organising an illegal referendum in Catalonia before declaring independence.
Six members of the speaker’s committee at the Catalan parliament face the same accusations for pushing ahead with illegal procedures ahead of last Friday’s proclamation of an independent Catalan republic.
Catalonia’s public television channel, TV3, said that Mr Puigdemont and some of his former government colleagues were “in a safe and secluded place”.
On Sunday Belgium’s migration minister, Theo Francken, had appeared to invite Mr Puigdemont to request asylum in the country to avoid being arrested and facing up to 30 years in jail if found guilty of rebellion.
A spokesperson for Mr Francken said on Monday that he could not confirm rumours regarding the deposed Catalan leader’s presence in Brussels. The Belgian state broadcaster VRT said Mr Puigdemont would “meet lawyers and political representatives” without providing details.
Mr Francken is a member of the New Flemish Alliance, the largest party in Belgium’s coalition government, which has offered consistent support for the cause of Catalan independence.
The chief spokesman of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, Fernando Martínez Maíllo, said that Mr Puigdemont fleeing to Brussels was an “error and a sign of desperation”.
And there were signs in Catalonia that Mr Puigdemont’s decision to leave the country was not shared by all of his former government colleagues, some of whom showed up for work in their departments on Monday, despite the imposition of direct rule from Madrid under emergency constitutional powers.
“There are some people who are still working for Catalonia in the functions that correspond to them and others who will explain their decisions at some point,” a source from the office of Catalonia’s ousted vice president, Oriol Junqueras, said of Mr Puigdemont’s journey.
The source said that the now deposed Catalan number two had gone to work in Catalonia’s economy department on Monday.
Josep Rull, another ousted government member, posted a photograph of himself on Twitter sitting at his desk, on which a copy of Monday’s edition of the Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui was visible.
Spain’s interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoído, appealed to Mr Rull to desist from his defiant attitude, explaining that the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra police force had been given direct orders from Madrid to file criminal reports against regional officials who did not accept their dismissals.
“I ask him to be sensible and to avoid dragging more public servants to the precipice,” said Mr Zoído.
Amid expectation that he might also defy Madrid and attempt to enter his former presidential headquarters on Monday morning, Mr Puigdemont appeared to be relishing the game of cat and mouse, posting a photograph of an interior view of the government palace on Instagram in an ambiguous hint that he may have found a way of sneaking inside.
The mystery as to Mr Puigdemont’s whereabouts deepened when he failed to attend a meeting of his PDeCAT pro-independence party where the decision was taken to run in elections imposed on the region by Mr Rajoy and set for December 21.
A source from Mr Junqueras’ Catalan Republican Left party said they would also enter the elections, as long as they are “free of the violence and intimidation we saw during the referendum”, marred by police charges against voters.
“We will never deny Catalan people the chance to choose at the ballot box. We ask that the Spanish government respect their decision this time.”
Watch: Police enter Catalan government buildings after dissolution of Parliament
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