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Ousted Catalan premier to explain trip to Brussels at 12.30pm today

Reports suggest that Carles Puigdemont and five of his ex-ministers are in Belgium to seek asylum, something that could trigger a crisis in a coalition of liberals and Flemish nationalists

A portrait of Carles Puigdemont at the Palace of the Generalitat, the seat of the regional presidency.
A portrait of Carles Puigdemont at the Palace of the Generalitat, the seat of the regional presidency. EL PAÍS

In an unexpected turn of events, ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont secretly traveled to Brussels on Monday with five of his former aides, according to Interior Minister sources.

The former leader is facing sedition and rebellion charges in Spain after separatist parties in the Catalan parliament last Friday approved a text paving the way for the proclamation of an independent republic.

If Puigdemont were to formally seek asylum, it could create a diplomatic incident between Spain and Belgium

Puigdemont may now seek asylum in Belgium, or else build a strategy to delay the legal action against him, said his lawyers.

The politician is due to speak to the press at 12.30pm today from the Brussels Press Club, after he was not permitted to make the appearance at the Residence Palace, which belongs to the Belgian government, media outlets in Belgium report.

If Puigdemont were to formally seek asylum, it could create a diplomatic incident between Spain and Belgium, and trigger a political crisis inside the latter country, said sources familiar with the situation.

The trip took place after the Belgian secretary of state for asylum and migration, Theo Francken,  suggested the possibility of asylum for Puigdemont. Francken is a member of New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party that has shown sympathy in the past for the Catalan secessionist movement.

On Sunday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, a liberal who leads a delicate coalition that includes Flemish nationalists, asked Francken “not to add fuel to the fire.

Puigdemont has hired Paul Bekaert, a Belgian lawyer specializing in human rights who has defended members of the Basque terrorist group ETA in the past. Bekaert said that the Catalan leader would make a public statement around noon on Tuesday.

English version by Susana Urra.

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