The ousted regional president told a packed press conference in Brussels that Madrid had violated “the very basis of the values on which Europe is founded” and that EU inaction would come “at a very high cost”.
Mr Puigdemont, who has fled Spain to avoid charges of rebellion which carry a 30 year jail term, said he would not seek asylum in Belgium but also refused to rule out a long stay in Northern Europe.
However, he was immediately mocked for taking flight by Spanish MPs and senior European politicians including Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who said he had “left Catalonia in chaos and devastation”.
At a press conference in central Brussels attended by several hundred journalists, Mr Puigdemont and seven of his senior ministers railed against the actions of the Madrid Government and called on the EU to act.
He said: “To the international community and especially to Europe, I ask them to react. The Catalan issue is at the very basis of the values on which Europe is founded – democracy, freedom, freedom of expression, hospitality, non-violence.
“Allowing the Spanish Government to refuse dialogue, tolerating the violence exercised by far-right groups, the imposition by ,military means and our imprisonment for 30 years, is to end with the idea of Europe.”
Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt accused the Catalan leader of leaving behind ‘chaos’
Mr Puigdemont, who repeated his call for a reaction to emphasise the point, bluntly warned European leaders that if they stand by saying: “It is is a mistake that we can all pay at a very high cost as European citizens.
“We are in front of a state that only understands the reason of force and that has decided to use the violence and repression so that we abandon our political project. They will not succeed.”
Asked how long he planned to stay in the Belgian capital, he refused to give a definite response only saying it would “depend on circumstances” and the “reaction of the Spanish state.”
Two of his most senior ministers, sitting next to him, insisted they could not receive a fair trial in Spain and said they had done nothing wrong to warrant the “severe injustice” against them.
Mr Puigdemont, members of his Government and senior civil servants are facing charges of rebellion after the Catalan parliament voted to officially declare independence from Spain on Friday.
European leaders have repeatedly stuck to the mantra that the Catalan issue is an internal one for Spain whilst offering open support to the Madrid Government – a position Mr Puigdemont’s appearance is unlikely to shift.
It is is a mistake that we can all pay at a very high cost as European citizens
Mr Verhofstadt reposted a cartoon of the Catalan leader dressed up as the Belgian cartoon character Tin-Tin, and observed: “Not sure if comparing Puigdemont to Tintin is adequate. Tintin always finds solutions to the adventures he encounters, while Puigdemont left Catalonia in chaos and devastation.”
Meanwhile senior Spanish MPs branded Mr Puigdemont a “coward” who “fled in the night” and told him that he and his allies should return to his homeland to face the charges against them.
Gonzalez Pons, spokesman for the ruling People’s Party in the EU Parliament, said: “First he asks everyone to resist heroically and then he he escapes as if he were a comic character, arrives in Brussels in secret, and nobody has received him here.
“He is someone who proclaims the Republic, asks his people to resist heroically and flees at night in the dark whilst lying on his internet accounts. If I were one of those who had accompanied him in the procés would be very angry with him.”
His last remark was a reference to an infamous social media post Mr Puigdemont uploaded yesterday which purported to show him arriving at the Catalan Government building for work.
Catalonia latest pictures: Violent clashes erupt
Sat, October 28, 2017
Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence from Spain and proclaim a republic, just as Madrid is poised to impose direct rule on the region to stop it in its tracks
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A pro unity demonstrator is stopped by Catalan Regional Police officer during a protest after the Catalan regional parliament declared independence from Spain in Barcelona
In reality, he and his senior ministers had driven overnight to the southern French city of Marseille, from where they caught a plane to Brussels. Mr Puigdemont then consulted a Belgian lawyer who is an expert in extradition.
Spanish prosecutors have recommended the ousted leader should be charged in the coming days, meaning he and his allies face the possibility of having to fight European Arrest Warrants issued by Madrid.
Spanish MP Rafael Hernando said: “Puigdemont has not respected the polls nor the results. He tries to separate the Catalans and the centuries of connection between Spain and Catalonia.”
Fellow MP Xavier García Albiol, who is president of the People’s Party branch in Catalonia, added: “Puigdemont’s statement brings shame on us because it goes to the heart of Europe to lie and insult the Spaniards”.
He added that the action of the Catalan leader and his allies in fleeing to Belgium “are proving that the independence, as well as being a big lie, was orchestrated by cowards”.
However, Mr Puigdemont was supported by the SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who tweeted: “Catalan Gov since 1932, 6 of 9 Presidents have been either executed, exiled, faced court or jailed. Will 9th to join this fate? #Europe?”