By Angus Berwick and Michael Nienaber
A German court said on Monday it was likely to take several days to decide whether to extradite former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to Spain to face rebellion charges over the region’s campaign for independence
But despite a night of protests across Catalonia in which dozens of people were hurt in clashes with police, Puigdemont’s arrest on Sunday in northern Germany leaves the independence movement weaker than it has been in years. Almost its entire leadership is now either behind bars ahead of trial or in exile.
Puigdemont, who fled Spain five months ago for Belgium after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed his regional administration and imposed direct rule from Madrid, faces charges of rebellion that could lead to 25 years in prison.
On Sunday night, a demonstration in Barcelona against Puigdemont’s arrest by tens of thousands of Catalans tipped over into clashes with police.
Outside the central government offices, riot police beat flag-waving protesters back with batons, leaving several with blood streaming down their foreheads.
About 100 people were hurt across the region, including 23 members of the Mossos d’Escuadra police force, and nine people were arrested, authorities said.
The protests followed a Spanish Supreme Court ruling on Friday that 25 Catalan leaders, including Puigdemont, would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state relating to a referendum held in Catalonia last October that called for it to separate from Spain.
The Madrid government deemed the referendum, which was widely boycotted by opponents of independence, illegal and took over direct rule of the wealthy northeastern region following a symbolic declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament.
The court on Friday also reactivated international arrest warrants for four other politicians who went into self-imposed exile last year. Puigdemont and fellow separatists have all denied any wrongdoing.
Five separatist leaders, including the latest candidate to become regional president, Jordi Turull, were ordered jailed pending their trial. The Catalan parliament’s failure last week to vote in Turull as president started a two-month countdown to elect a new leader before a regional election is triggered.
The forceful action by the government and courts appeared to be bringing a close to what had been one of Spain‘s worst political crises since the return of democracy in the 1970s.
“Looks like the separatist movement is falling apart,” Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Adrian Zunzunegui said in a note on Monday. “We expect a few more months of uncertainty, and most likely new elections to be called then.”
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