Emboldened Catalan leader Puigdemont mulling visit to Spain

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Demonstrators hold signs showing Catalan politician Oriol Junqueras as they protest outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is expected to attend his first session as a member of the European Parliament on Monday despite facing an arrest warrant against him in Spain. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

STRASBOURG – Exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is considering going back to Spain if he gets assurances that he is immune from arrest through his new status as a European legislator.

After his first plenary session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, he told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that he would work for the release from jail of a fellow proponent of Catalonia's independence from Spain.

Puigdemont said he was looking for a ruling from the European Parliament “within weeks” over whether he can visit without being arrested. He specifically wants to visit the former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, who was also elected to the European Parliament in May's elections.

“Why not?" he said. “Spain must recognize my immunity."

Like Junqueras, Puigdemont was at the forefront of the illegal referendum campaign in Catalonia in 2017 but he managed to flee to Brussels when Spanish authorities issued an arrest warrant for him.

Puigdemont, who was Catalonia's president until Spain imposed direct rule following the illegal referendum, said he was looking for more legal protections from the European Parliament before he would make the trip. Spain has sought to have him extradited three times over the past two years.

“We hope, in a few, not too (many) months, probably weeks, we have a clear statement from the board of the European parliament," he said.

In his first act as a European legislator, Puigdemont waved a yellow poster demanding “Free Junqueras." In October, a Spanish court sentenced Junqueras in October to 13 years in prison for sedition.