Carles Puigdemont has left Spain and travelled to Brussels, according to Spanish government officials. Puigdemont is facing sedition charges from the Spanish government after Catalonia declared independence under his leadership. The move comes after Belgium’s asylum and migration affairs minister Theo Francken said the former president could seek asylum in the country.
On October 27, Madrid stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and removed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont from office. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said his cabinet had fired the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and ordered regional elections to be held on 21 December.
“I have decided to call free, clean and legal elections as soon as possible to restore democracy,” he told a press conference, adding that the aim of the measures was to “restore the self-government that has been eliminated by the decisions of the Catalan government.”
The Spanish senate granted Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution. The article, which has never been used, allowed Rajoy to sack Puigdemont and assume control of Catalonia’s civil service, police, finances and public media.
This move will see as many as 150 of the region’s ministers replaced. Some have vowed to continue to work.
The actions came hours after Spain’s national unity suffered a decisive blow when Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. Dozens of opposition MPs boycotted the secret ballot, marching out of the chamber in Barcelona before it took place and leaving Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats in protest.
According to the regional government, 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted during the October 1 independence referendum chose yes. The turnout was 42.3%, which may signify the fact that those in favor of staying with Spain deemed the vote illegitimate and didn’t vote, as pre-referendum polls have shown a clear 60-40 majority of Catalans in favor of remaining part of Spain. Madrid used police violence in an attempt to prevent the vote. At least 893 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt during the attempts to stop the vote by the police.