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Spain to seek ex-Catalan leader's arrest if he travels to Denmark

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s state prosecution service said on Sunday it would seek the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont if he traveled from Belgium to Denmark on Monday to attend a debate he is billed to host.

FILE PHOTO - Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attends a meeting with his party 'Junts per Catalunya' parliament group in Brussels, Belgium January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Puigdemont fled to Brussels in October after his regional government declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27 following a referendum ruled illegal by Spanish authorities. Madrid also sacked his cabinet and imposed direct rule over the wealthy region.

The Spanish Supreme Court issued an international arrest warrant against him but withdrew it in December to avoid the risk of Belgian authorities granting him asylum.

The prosecution service said it would immediately ask the judge overseeing Puigdemont’s case to reinstate the warrant and request that Danish authorities arrest him once it confirmed his travel plans.

The University of Copenhagen said on Friday that Puigdemont would attend the event on Monday at its political science department: “Catalonia and Europe at a Crossroads for Democracy? Debate with Carles Puigdemont.”

Puigdemont’s lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, told Catalan public radio on Sunday that the risk of his client being arrested in Denmark was “quite high”, though he also believed Danish authorities would decline to serve any warrant.

A spokesman for the Danish state prosecutor said, “We will await the situation,” declining to elaborate further at this stage.

Puigdemont has not yet commented on the Denmark trip, though on Friday he re-tweeted a Twitter post from Danish politician Pelle Dragsted saying he looked forward to welcoming Puigdemont to the Danish parliament the following week.

It would be the first time that Puigdemont leaves Belgium since his arrival in October in the company of four of his cabinet members.

He is likely to be detained if he returns to Spain, pending investigation on charges of sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust.

Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party emerged as the largest separatist force in a Dec. 21 regional election that returned a majority of seats in parliament to pro-independence parties.

Puigdemont is searching for ways for parliament to appoint him as the new Catalan president remotely from Brussels and has suggested he could rule via video link.

Rajoy has dismissed the possibility of long-distance rule by Puigdemont as absurd and Madrid has said it will contest any such decision in the courts. The Catalan parliamentary committee must decide by Jan. 31 if it will allow him to do so.

Reporting by Rodrigo de Miguel; Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg