Prosecutor accuses sacked Catalan leader of rebellion

web_photo_Carles Puigdemont_15102017

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech at the memorial of "Fossar de la Pedrera" (Pedrera mass grave) in Barcelona, Spain, October 15, 2017.

BARCELONA/MADRID - Spain’s state prosecutor accused sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Monday of rebellion and sedition as the former regional president travelled to Belgium with other members of his ousted administration and hired a lawyer there.

As Madrid began direct rule of Catalonia, Attorney General Jose Manuel Maza called for charges of rebellion, sedition, fraud and misuse of funds to be brought against Catalan leaders who organised an illegal referendum on independence from Spain.

The 1 October vote in the prosperous region with its own language and culture has triggered Spain’s biggest crisis in decades. On Friday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed Catalonia’s secessionist government, called a regional election for 21 December and said the central government would take direct control.

READ: Crunch day for Catalonia as Madrid takes control

That process began smoothly on Monday as employees ignored calls for civil disobedience and turned up for work, while secessionist parties agreed to stand in the December poll.

A senior Spanish government official said on Monday that Puigdemont had travelled to Belgium. He drove to the French city of Marseilles to catch a flight to Belgium with five other members of his sacked administration, Spanish media reported.

Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert, whose website says he is involved in a human rights organisation, said he had taken on Puigdemont as a client but would not confirm whether he was working with him on a political asylum claim.

“I can confirm Carles Puigdemont has appointed me as his legal representative, as he is currently in Belgium,” Bekaert told Reuters. “At the moment there are no specific dossiers I am preparing for him.”

Bekaert told Belgian broadcaster VTM that Puigdemont had not fled Catalonia, was not hiding and would make a public appearance in Brussels on Tuesday.

After what he described as an hour-long meeting in his office in western Belgium, the lawyer - who quoted his experience with asylum and extradition cases, as well as with Spain - said his client was in high spirits, driven by “strong support among his backers in Catalonia”.

&39;Things have to carry on&39;

Some of the most prominent ousted Catalan leaders, including Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, had said they would not accept their dismissal.

But their respective parties, PdeCat and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, said on Monday they would take part in the election called by Rajoy, a tacit acceptance of direct rule from Madrid. The regional parliament cancelled a meeting for Tuesday, another signal lawmakers accepted they had been dismissed.

READ: Axed Catalan leader urges resistance to Madrid rule

A call for widespread civil disobedience from the main civic groups behind the secessionist campaign failed to attract many followers. Public-sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and the police mostly started work as normal on Monday and there was no sign of widespread absenteeism.

A trade union, Intersindical-CSC, which had called for a general strike in Catalonia, said on Monday it had cancelled it.

Other regional leaders did not turn up to their offices, although some of their staff did.

One of 140 senior officials appointed directly by the outgoing government described the situation as “normal” and said he had not yet received any letter of dismissal.

“We civil servants want everything to be normal. Things have to carry on. The day-to-day work still has to be done,” he said.

READ: Catalan leaders defy king over independence