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Sardinia judge rules Carles Puigdemont can go free ahead of an October 4 hearing on extradition from Spain.
Catalan separatist leader Carle Puigdemont has been released from prison on the Italian island of Sardinia after a judge ruled he could be released ahead of an October 4 extradition hearing.
Puigdemont left prison in Sassari on Friday, a day after he had been detained by police. He is wanted in Spain for incitement to leading a 2017 secession bid for the Catalonia region, where he was regional president at the time.
Hours before his release, Judge Plinia Clara Azzena ruled that Puigdemont was free to travel without restrictions. The order came after the prosecution agreed that he did not pose a flight or security risk, but emphasized that Puigdemont’s arrest when he entered Italy, on the basis of a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, was legal.
Now it remains to be seen whether Puigdemont will be transferred to Spain or not. Until then, he is not allowed to leave Sardinia.
Azena and two other judges will hold a hearing next month to decide on Spain’s extradition.
Puigdemont’s Italian lawyer, Agostinangelo Marras, told reporters outside the court in Sassari that when the judge asked Puigdemont if he wanted to return to Spain, his client replied “no.”
Marras said the three-member panel would consider the extradition request and decide whether the request was justified. He said the trial was expected to take “several weeks”.
Puigdemont followed the hearing in the late afternoon via video link from the prison in Sassari.
Police transferred Puigdemont to a prison in the city of Sassari on Thursday evening after he was detained under an international arrest warrant at Alghero airport. Alghero, a town on the northwest coast of the island, hosts the traditional Catalan folklore festival that Puigdemont had attended.
Sardinia has strong Catalan cultural roots and its own independence movement.
“Freedom, freedom,” protesters shouted outside the court in Sassari. They held signs in a Sardinian dialect that read, “Democracy, the Sardinian Nation Supports the Catalan Nation,” and held the flags of Sardinia and the Spanish region of Catalonia.
Puigdemont currently holds a seat in the Parliament of the European Union, although that legislature stripped him of his parliamentary immunity.
His detention caused political commotion in Spain, where the topic of Catalan independence has been divisive for decades. Separatists demanded his release and staged street protests, while right-wing parties said he should appear in court.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Friday during an official visit to the Canary Islands that he “respects all legal proceedings opened in Spain, in Europe and, in this case, in Italy”.
Sánchez, who recently opened direct talks with Catalan regional leaders, said that “dialogue is the only way to bring Catalans of different opinions together and bring Catalans together with the rest of Spain”.
Just under half of Catalans want to break away from Spain, opinion polls show. Most Spaniards do not want Catalonia to become independent.
It is not the first time that Spanish courts have tried to detain Puigdemont abroad. After a Belgian court refused to return him in 2017, he was arrested in Germany the following year, but a court there also refused to extradite him.
Puigdemont and some of his separatist colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest after holding an independence referendum for Catalonia that was illegal by the Spanish courts and government.
Nine Catalan separatists were later given prison terms for their role in the 2017 referendum, ranging from nine to 13 years. In July they were pardoned, but Puigdemont, who fled, was not.
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