CARLES Puigdemont, the former leader of Catalunya who fled Spain after a failed independence bid, was detained by Italian police in Sardinia on Thursday evening.

The MEP will face an extradition hearing on Friday with the Spanish government insisting he must return to face justice.

“Mr. Puigdemont must submit to the action of the courts, exactly like any other citizen,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s office said in a statement.

Puigdemont has been based in Belgium since fleeing Spain when a warrant was issued for his arrest and others involved in organising an illegal referendum on independence for Catalunya in September 2017.

The arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued in October 2019 that had since been suspended.

News of his arrest on arrival in Sardinia came with a tweet from his chief of staff Josep Lluis Alay.

“At his arrival at Alghero airport, he was arrested by Italian police. Tomorrow (Friday), he’ll appear before the judges of the court of appeal of Sassari, who will decide whether to let him go or extradite him,” Alay said.

Pere Aragonès, the current president of the Catalunya region was swift to condemn what he called the “persecution” of Puigdemont.

“In the face of persecution and judicial repression, the strongest condemnation. It has to stop,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that “self-determination” was the “only solution”.

Supporters have called for protests outside the Italian consulate on Friday while the hashtags #FreePuigdemont became a trending topic on Twitter.

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