A Spanish judge has refused to re-issue a European arrest warrant for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont – saying it would be playing into the exiled politician’s hands.
Mr Puigdemont has been exiled in Belgium since his failed bid to declare Catalonia independent from Spain three months ago.
He is refusing to return to Spain until he is given guarantees by Madrid that he will be able to lead the regional parliament.
Separatist parties won a majority in December’s regional elections and a new leader must be elected by 31 January.
Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena refused the arrest warrant request, arguing the politician’s strategy was to “provoke this arrest abroad” so he could blame Spain for missing an upcoming vote in the regional parliament to elect a new leader.
He said: “Facing the legal impossibility to be elected without being present at the parliament, provoking his arrest overseas seeks to equip him with a justification that his absence is not a free decision as a fugitive, but the consequence of a situation that has been imposed on him.”
The refusal comes after the speaker of the Catalan parliament nominated Mr Puigdemont to lead the regional government.
Roger Torrent said it was “absolutely legitimate” for Mr Puigdemont to take control of the regional authority – despite the politician facing criminal charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Mr Puigdemont, meanwhile, has made his first trip outside Belgium in three months, addressing students in Denmark.
The 55-year old told an audience at a University of Copenhagen debate: “We will not surrender to authoritarianism despite Madrid’s threats.”
He added: “Soon we will form a new government… it’s time to end their oppression and find a political solution for Catalonia.”
Mr Puigdemont told students the actions of Madrid were acts of “revenge”.
He said: “Fundamental freedoms have been undermined, democratically elected politicians have been sent to prison and treated like terrorists.”
The ongoing crisis unfolded after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence in October.
Spain’s government then axed Mr Puigdemont and his entire administration before dissolving the parliament.