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Ousted Catalan leader in Brussels to apply for political asylum: media

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-10-31 10:26

File photo shows Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont smiles as he chairs a meeting of the regional government at the Palau de la Generalitat, the regional government headquarters, in Barcelona, Spain, Sept 26, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

BRUSSELS - Ousted Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont, as well as five of his advisers, is in Belgium, amidst speculation he could apply for political asylum, local media reported on Monday.

After first confirming Puigdemont's presence in Brussels for a private meeting with the N-VA, the Flemish nationalist and conservative party, the Belgian media relayed the information from Belgian Vice-prime minister Jan Jambon that Puigdemont had not been invited by the N-VA and that nothing had been organized in any way for this.

According to Spanish newspapers, however, Puigdemont is in Belgium to apply for political asylum.

Spain's Attorney-General Jose Manuel Maza announced on Monday morning that Puigdemont was being sued because of his unilateral declaration of independence last Friday. The sacked president is being prosecuted for rebellion as well as sedition and misuse of public funds. He could face up to 30 years in prison.

The application for political asylum has not yet been confirmed by local media and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has not given any comment.

For the Spanish government, the application for political asylum is "a pure sign of despair", local Belgian newspaper La Libre reported.

The Spanish government took charge of Catalonia's administration on Friday shortly after the declaration of independence. Madrid appointed Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, Spain's deputy prime minister, to replace Puigdemont as the head of the region, whose former parliament has been dissolved.

Last week-end, Belgian asylum and migration Secretary of State Theo Francken said Belgium would be ready to grant Puigdemont political asylum. However, this was quickly denied by the prime minister who said it was not "on the agenda of the day" and asked Francken not to "add fuel to the fire".

Interviewed by radio and tv news station RTBF, a professor specializing in European law for migration and asylum policies at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) warned about the consequences of granting such a request: "If Belgium decides to examine this application, it would have to refer immediately to the European Council and that would obviously be a decision with significant consequences," he said.

According to RTBF, Puigdemont is in a safe and discreet place, and might make a speech Tuesday.

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