Catalonia’s ousted president has traveled to Brussels and been offered asylum, Spanish authorities said Monday soon after indicating that prosecutors were filing charges against him and other regional leaders related to their declaration of independence last week.
Spanish prosecutors in Madrid said they were asking judges for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and others who were dismissed by Spain’s central government.
Puigdemont and a majority of Catalonia’s parliament declared independence Friday, but the Spanish government then fired them under a special constitutional provision and called new regional elections Dec. 21.
The attorney general, José Manuel Maza, did not order their immediate arrest, saying he wanted to urgently prosecute the 20 politicians and ordering them to appear in court in Madrid in coming days.
Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, Puigdemont's attorney, told Antena 3 television that the attorney general’s claim that his client was guilty of rebellion was “real nonsense.”
Puigdemont did not immediately comment. A spokeswoman for his party, Marta Pascal, said she could not confirm whether he would appear in court to face charges. “I’ve talked with him, and he’s fine,” she said at a news conference.
The Madrid government had warned members of the Catalan cabinet that they could remove belongings from their offices Monday but if they tried to perform official duties, they would face charges.
Puigdemont caused a stir Monday morning by posting a photo of the outside of the Catalonia government building with the caption "Good day!" — giving the appearance he might be at work.
At least one local official showed up briefly to protest. Josep Rull, in charge of territorial affairs, tweeted a photo of himself sitting at his desk Monday next to a newspaper with the headline, "Back to work."
"In my office, fulfilling my responsibilities that the people of Catalonia have charged me with," Rull tweeted.
Soon after, he was spotted being escorted from the building by police.
Independence supporters have vowed to defy the Spanish government with civil disobedience, blocking government buildings with human chains and staging strikes to shut down government offices. No major protests had occurred by midday in the region of 7.5 million people.
An independence referendum in Catalonia on Oct. 1 resulted in overwhelming support for secession, officials said, but fewer than half of eligible voters participated.
The declaration of independence proclaimed by Catalan officials Friday was met hours later with Spain’s Senate in Madrid triggering Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, in effect authorizing a central government takeover of the region.
Juan Ignacio Zoido, the Spanish interior minister, said the takeover of the local police force, known as the Mossos, had gone smoothly. Officials fired the police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, who was seen as defying Spain, and appointed the deputy leader in his stead.
“We wanted to send a message of trust to the Mossos,” Zoido told Antena 3. “It’s important that the Mossos should recover part of a lost credibility.”
Separatists in Catalonia embrace a past steeped in their own language and traditions. The region has grown into Spain's economic powerhouse, with the tourist hub of Barcelona as its capital, and some Catalans resent having their taxes subsidize poorer parts of Spain.
Independentistas on Monday vowed to continue fighting for a separate Catalan state. Standing in front of the Catalonia government building in the Placa de Sant Jaume, surrounded by a crowd of several dozen reporters and supporters waving Catalan flags, a leftist city group read statements in Catalan in front of a podium that said "Republic now!"
"The repression, the threats, the interventions of the Spanish state are a reality, despite the approvals and struggles of the Catalan parliament," said Maria Jose Lecha, president of the Popular Unity Candidacy party in Barcelona.
She said supporters rejected Spain's application of Article 155 of the constitution to oust the regional government, and they planned to protest peacefully. The atmosphere in the regional capital was tense.
"Losers!" shouted Carlo Maestri, 35, as he walked past the crowd in Placa de Sant Jaume and pointed to the Spanish flag still flying atop the regional government building.
Protesters wearing traditional Catalan hats and toting guitars sang resistance songs and waved the Estelada pro-independence flag. Maestri dismissed them with a wave of his hand as "theater."
"They can sing, but the flag is still Spain," said Maestri, a receptionist at a local hostel. "They didn't respect the constitution, the law on Catalonia. It's an offense to the rest of us."
But those clinging to the Catalan republic said they have tried for years to change the law, to no avail, thwarted at every turn by the establishment in Madrid.
Rosa Martinez Lopez said she fears the Madrid government is adopting the methods of Gen. Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled for decades and died in 1975.
"What they're doing to President Puigdemont they could do to any of us," said Martinez, wrapped in an Estelada flag, as she stood in front of the government building. "We're going back to the era of Franco. We are all convinced what happened is illegal. If we have to be here morning until night, we will be."
12:05 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the Spanish interior minister and other details.
This story was originally published at 9:10 a.m.