March 14, 2018 / 5:38 PM / 9 months ago

Catalan ex-leader Puigdemont, in self-exile in Brussels, to visit Switzerland

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont takes part in a meeting with his party in Brussels, Belgium March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

ZURICH (Reuters) - Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, in self-imposed exile in Belgium since leading a failed secession bid, will speak at a film festival in Switzerland, requiring rare international travel despite previous Spanish efforts to extradite him.

Puigdemont is slotted to speak at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva on Sunday, organisers said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Swiss government said in a statement he was free to travel to the country, that Catalonia’s status was an internal Spanish matter, and that it was in communication with the Spanish authorities.

Puigdemont, who was sacked as Catalonia’s leader by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after holding a referendum on independence last year that Spanish courts ruled illegal, has been charged in Spain with sedition and rebellion.

Earlier this month he pulled back from a bid for a second term as regional leader.

He is likely to be arrested if he returns to Spain. However, Spain’s Supreme Court withdrew an international arrest warrant for him in December, to bring his case solely under Spanish jurisdiction.

When he last travelled from Belgium, on a trip to Denmark in January, Spanish prosecutors sought to revive the international warrant. The Spanish court rejected that, putting the extradition bid on hold at least until the Catalan parliament resumes work, which has been held up during a court fight over the jailing of another prospective candidate for leader.

Fellow Catalan politician Anna Gabriel is staying in Geneva to avoid charges of sedition and rebellion, for which she was supposed to appear before Spain’s highest court last month.

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Angus Berwick; Editing by Peter Graff

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