Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont is released from Italian prison after being arrested in Sardinia

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Former president of the Spanish region of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was released from a jail in the Italian city of Sassari on Friday, a day after his arrest on charges of sedition.

“All good,” Puigdemont told reporters after leaving prison.

The exiled Catalan ex-president was arrested by Italy on the island of Sardinia at the request of Spain in an independence referendum that Madrid declared illegal. His lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras, had said early Friday that Puigdemont would be released while fighting extradition.

Puigdemont, a member of the European Parliament who fled Spain after the 2017 vote, may leave Italy, his lawyer said after his release. Puigdemont’s next hearing is scheduled for October 4, the lawyer added.

The 58-year-old separatist leader spent the night in jail and appeared via video link at a court hearing on Friday in Sassari, where a judge decided the conditions of his bail.

Marras had said that prosecutors had not asked for him to be detained and said “they could be released from today.”

Lawyers for Puigdemont, who has been based in Brussels in recent years, insist there is no basis for his arrest and extradition, but say challenging him could take several weeks.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Friday that he would respect the Italian system, but added: “It is clear that Carles Puigdemont must be brought to justice and tried.”

Call for liberation

The arrest prompted a strong reprimand from the Catalan government, with regional leader Pere Aragones demanding the “immediate release” of Puigdemont and saying that he would travel to Sardinia to “support” him.

It also comes at a delicate moment, nine days after the left-leaning Spanish government and Catalan regional authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Before Friday’s hearing, supporters gathered in front of the court in Sassari, one of whom held a large flag of Catalan independence.

And in the regional capital of Catalonia, Barcelona, ​​hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Italian consulate, some with makeshift signs that read “Freedom” in Catalan over the photo of Puigdemont.

Others shouted “Free our president” in Italian and waved Catalan independence flags.

The October 2017 referendum was organized by the separatist regional government of Catalonia despite the Madrid ban and the process was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the separatists issued a short declaration of independence, sparking a huge political crisis within Spain during which Puigdemont and several others fled abroad.

Madrid was quick to prosecute the Catalan separatists who fell behind and handed them nine lengthy jail terms.

Although all were pardoned earlier this year, Madrid still wants Puigdemont and several others to face justice for the secession attempt.

In March, the European Parliament annulled the immunity of Puigdemont and two other pro-independence MEPs, a decision that was confirmed in July by the General Court of the EU.

However, the European Parliament’s decision is being appealed and a final decision from the EU court has yet to be issued.

“Someone tricked the [EU] General Court to lift the precautionary measures, ”Gonzalo Boye, Puigdemont’s lawyer, based in Brussels, told AFP.

‘Persecution’

Aragonés, a more moderate separatist who took over as Catalan leader earlier this year, said the only solution to the region’s political crisis was “self-determination.”

“In the face of persecution and judicial repression, our strongest condemnation. It has to stop, ”he wrote on Twitter.

And Quim Torra, who took office after Puigdemont fled, said that the extradition of his predecessor to Spain would be “catastrophic” and urged pro-independence activists to be “on high alert.”

Meanwhile, the Catalan National Assembly, the largest grassroots separatist movement in the region, has called for protests over the “illegal detention” of Puigdemont.

In addition to Puigdemont, former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati are also wanted in Spain on charges of sedition.

The Italian government said it would not get involved in the Puigdemont case.

“The procedure is entirely in the hands of the judicial authorities,” said a statement from the Ministry of Justice.

( Jowhar with AFP, REUTERS)