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Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said he was not trying to escape justice by travelling to Brussels and that he wanted to "put the Catalan problem at the heart of the European Union."
Puigdemont traveled to the Belgian capital on Monday as Spain's chief prosecutor called for criminal charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement to be brought against him and a number of his pro-independence administration.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels Tuesday, he said criminal charges brought against him and other Catalan politicians for their role in the independence bid were groundless.
He said he had come to Belgium to put forward the Catalan issue at the heart of the EU.
"I am not here to demand political asylum," he told reporters in Brussels. "I'm here in Brussels as the capital of Europe." He added that he would return to Catalonia when given "guarantees" of "fair and independent treatment," he said.
If prosecuted and found guilty, Puigdemont and his Catalan colleagues could face heavy prison sentences – as much as 30 years in jail – for their roles in Catalonia's bid for independence that has caused a constitutional crisis in Spain.
Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaerty confirmed on Monday that he had taken Puigdemont on as a client but had not said whether he was working on an asylum claim — something which would prove difficult to process in Belgium given that Puigdemont is a citizen of another member state of the European Union.
Puigdemont's self-imposed exile comes after a month of deteriorating relations between his administration and the Spanish government. On October 1, Puigdemont and his colleagues defied a Spanish ban on a symbolic referendum on independence, going ahead with the vote which saw a majority vote for secession from Spain but low voter turnout.
Despite warnings not to proceed, the pro-independence government in Catalonia declared independence on Friday. Madrid responded by imposing direct rule, stripping Catalonia of its autonomous functions, sacking the government and calling fresh elections for December 21.