BARCELONA, Spain -- Five months after going on the run from Spanish authorities, Catalonia's former president was detained Sunday in Germany on an international warrant after crossing the border with Denmark.
Carles Puigdemont's capture, aided by Spanish intelligence services, sparked protests by tens of thousands of people in Catalonia's main city of Barcelona and other towns in the wealthy northeastern corner of Spain. Some of the demonstrators clashed with riot police, leaving more than 50 civilians and police officers injured and leading to four arrests. All the injuries were minor, regional government health services said in a tweet.
Puigdemont will appear before a German judge today. He was attempting to return to Belgium after a visit to Finland when he was apprehended by highway police, his lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas said by phone Sunday.
Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades when Puigdemont's government flouted a court ban and held a referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October. Separatists won that vote, and Puigdemont's government declared independence.
The Catalan parliament's declaration of independence received no international recognition and provoked a takeover of the regional government by Spanish authorities that they say won't be lifted until a new government that respects Spain's Constitution is in place.
Spain's Constitution says the nation is "indivisible" and that any changes to its top law must be made by its national parliament in Madrid.
Spain's state prosecutor office said it was in contact with its German counterparts to carry out its request to extradite Puigdemont to Spain, where he faces charges including rebellion that could put him in prison for up to 30 years.
In Barcelona, riot police shoved and struck protesters with batons to keep an angry crowd from advancing on the office of the Spanish government's representative. Police vans showed stains of yellow paint reportedly thrown by protesters. Reinforcements were called in after several hours to clear the neighboring streets, with protesters tossing street barriers and burning two garbage bins as they retreated.
City police estimated the number of demonstrators at 55,000, with as many as 1,000 gathered outside Spanish government offices, Barcelona's El Periodico reported. The pro-secession group Catalan National Assembly tweeted images of peaceful demonstrators heading for Barcelona's German Consulate.
Outside the city center, groups of demonstrators cut off traffic on four different stretches of highway. Police also used batons to keep back a crowd of a few thousand who had gathered in front of the Spanish government's representative in the city of Lleida.
Protesters also turned out in the northern city of Girona, where Puigdemont was mayor before he became regional president in 2016.
German highway police stopped Puigdemont on Sunday morning near the A7 highway that leads into Germany from Denmark, police in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said.
The German news agency dpa said Puigdemont was taken to a prison in the northern town of Neumuenster. State prosecutors in the northern town of Schleswig said Puigdemont will appear in court today to confirm his identity. They said in a statement that "the question of whether Mr. Puigdemont has to be taken into extradition custody will then have to be determined by the higher regional court in Schleswig."
German state prosecutor Ralph Doepper told RTL Television that Puigdemont has been "provisionally detained. He has not been arrested."
"We are now examining the further procedure, i.e. tomorrow we will decide whether we will file a provisional application for detention with the competent district court, which could lead to extradition detention later on," Doepper said Sunday.
Germany can't extradite Puigdemont on the grounds of "rebellion" because that offense doesn't exist under the country's law, Wolfgang Kubicki, a member of parliament with the Free Democratic Party, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. It's nevertheless possible that authorities will extradite him for other reasons, based on the European arrest warrant and Spain's well-regarded democratic constitution, said Kubicki, who has also been a defense lawyer in criminal cases.
A Spanish Supreme Court judge reactivated an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday when the former regional president was visiting Finland. Spain has also issued five warrants for other separatists who fled the country.
Scottish police said Sunday that the lawyer of Clara Ponsati, a former Catalan regional minister also being sought by Spain, had been in contact and that preparations were being made for Ponsati to surrender to authorities. She had moved to Scotland from Belgium earlier this month.
Ines Arrimadas, the Catalonia leader of the Citizens party, which is pro-Spain and has the most seats of any single party in Catalonia's parliament, said the chaos on the streets was "of a society broken in two" by the secessionist movement.
"Puigdemont knew that fracturing Catalan society into two parts, spending public money on illegal activities, provoking a political and institutional crisis without precedents and confronting a 21st-century democracy of the European Union was going to have consequences," Arrimadas said.
Albert Rivera, the head of the Citizens party and a member of the national parliament, welcomed Puigdemont's detention. "The flight of the coup-monger Puigdemont is over," he said in a tweet. "Justice is doing its work."
But the Catalan parliament speaker, the highest-ranking elected official in the region until it forms a government, made a televised address on Catalan public television to call for a united "democratic front" of political parties, labor unions and civil society organizations to respond to what he called "the thirst for revenge of the powers of the state."
Speaker Roger Torrent accused Spain's central authorities of "attacking the heart of democracy, making a general cause against its political adversaries."
"Spain does not guarantee a fair trial, only revenge and repression," Elsa Artadi, the spokesman for Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia group, said in a message retweeted by the pro-secession coalition.
Miquel Coca, a business owner in Barcelona, vowed that the secession push wouldn't falter.
"All the negative inputs that we have received help us to unite the society even more," Coca said. "If we can't have this leader, well, then there will be another. This is a movement of the people, not of one person."
Polls show Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are equally divided over secession, although a majority support holding a legal referendum on the issue.
Spain had originally asked for Puigdemont's extradition from Belgium after he fled there in October, but it later withdrew the request until Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena concluded his investigation last week. Llarena ruled that a total of 25 Catalan separatists would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience.
During the investigation, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland as part of his effort to gain international support for the secessionist movement.
Puigdemont was also able to successfully run a campaign as the head of his Together for Catalonia bloc in a regional election in December in which separatist parties maintained their slim majority in Catalonia's regional parliament.
He had wanted to be re-elected as Catalonia's regional president -- albeit while remaining abroad to avoid arrest -- but eventually was stopped by a Spanish court.
Separatists in Catalonia are currently trying to elect a leader for the regional government before a two-month time limit is up and new elections are called.
Information for this article was contributed by Joseph Wilson, Kirsten Grieshaber, Aritz Parra and Renata Brito of The Associated Press; by Charles Penty, Stefan Nicola and Esteban Duarte of Bloomberg News; and by Griff Witte of The Washington Post.
A Section on 03/26/2018
Print Headline: Germans detain ousted Catalan