LONDON - Spain has been plunged back into political turmoil after violent protests over the weekend in the wake of the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
The 55-year-old former leader was detained on the German-Danish border Sunday under a European arrest warrant issued by Spain, as he attempted to drive back to his adopted home in Belgium. He appeared before a court in the German town of Neumuenster on Monday for a preliminary hearing ahead of a decision on his extradition.
WATCH: Spain protests
?Puigdemont declared independence after the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum last year, though turnout was below 50 percent.
Madrid called the vote illegal, and the Spanish government sacked the Catalan administration and imposed direct rule. Puigdemont fled to Brussels, where he has been living since being charged with rebellion.
Puigdemont's detention triggered violent demonstrations in several Catalan cities over the weekend. At least 50 people were injured, including several police officers.
“I think it's time for a real revolution. We need to bring this country to a complete halt,” said one pro-independence supporter who did not want to be named.
Pro-independence lawmakers and parliament workers staged a strike Monday in protest.
Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont’s lawyer in Brussels, criticized Madrid’s actions.
“The elected people are put in jail — that is [a] dictatorship. And they abuse the European warrant for political purpose. And it's a scandal that Europe doesn't react against the situation,” Bekaert said Monday.
German judges will have to decide whether to extradite Puigdemont — a potentially complex process, said German legal analyst Nikolaos Gazeas.
“The responsible court will have to examine whether the events that occurred in Spain, in Catalonia, the things that Mr. Puigdemont is being accused of, are punishable in Germany and would be considered criminal under German law.”
Thirteen former Catalan independence leaders have been charged with rebellion by Madrid. Five — including Puigdemont — fled overseas in the wake of the government crackdown in October and are subject to international arrest warrants. But criminal law differs across Europe, where the principle of mutual recognition is key, said Gazeas.
“If the German court rules that rebellion is not an extraditionable offense, then that would mean — if the German government agrees to this — that Puigdemont could not be charged with rebellion in Spain. But only with the offenses he was extradited for. And that would probably be the offense of embezzlement — an offense with a much lower range of sentencing, and which is not in the prime focus of Spain.”
Germany has 60 days to make a decision, but that can be extended by another 30 days, if necessary. Analysts say a decision is likely to take several days, or even weeks.
Despite the protests in Catalonia, analysts say it’s uncertain whether his arrest will spark a revived bid to break away from Spain, as the independence movement itself is divided.