Catalonia's Carles Puigdemont calls on Madrid to 'respect democracy'

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont greets supporters after he was released on bail from the prison in Neumuenster northern Germany Friday

World Briefs: Former Catalan leader urges talks with Spain

The German court's decision to release Puigdemont on bail is a setback for the Spanish judiciary's efforts to crack down on the separatist movement.

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will return to self-imposed exile in Belgium should judges decide he not be extradited to Spain, he told reporters a day after being released from a German jail.

Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont is seen with supporters after a news conference in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 2018. He could still be extradited to Spain on charges of misusing state funds.

Spanish authorities had issued an arrest warrant against Puigdemont for his involvement in a controversial Catalan independence referendum.

A German court on Thursday rejected an extradition request for Puigdemont on the more serious charge of rebellion for his role in the campaign for the region's independence that could have resulted in a decades-long jail sentence in Spain.

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Puigdemont has been fugitive since Catalonia's bid to seek independence from Spain failed last October.

Puigdemont also thanked the German authorities for "their professionality and for their respect", and thanked his fellow inmates for "their solidarity and help for me to adapt quickly to the situation".

He said he hoped to return to live in Belgium once the legal process was over in Germany but that he meant to remain in Berlin while proceedings continued.

"This opens a new opportunity of dialogue".

Puigdemont was detained on a European arrest warrant after entering Germany on March 25. He was trying to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he had been living since fleeing to escape arrest in Spain.

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Misuse of public funds carries a sentence of up to eight years in Spain, while a rebellion sentence can reach 30 years.

Puigdemont can move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition, though he must report to police once a week and inform prosecutors of any change in residence.

Barley said it was now up to Spain to prove their embezzlement charges against Puigdemont, which she said "won't be easy".

"It is a shame for Europe to have political prisoners", Puigdemont said.

But Spain's Supreme Court said on Friday it was considering consulting the European Court of Justice on the ruling, without giving more details.

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She stated that if Spain couldn't prove the allegations of misuse of public funds, "afterward Puigdemont would be a free man in a absolutely free country - notably in Germany".

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