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Catalan separatists win new legal victory for Puigdemont in top EU court

AP Photo/Olivier Matthys

By Lorne Cook, Associated Press

The European Union's top court has said it wants a lower court to reconsider its decision to prevent fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont from taking a seat in the European Parliament, in a fresh legal victory for secessionist politicians from the Spanish region.

Mr Puigdemont and former Catalan health minister Toni Comin appealed to the EU's General Court to overturn a Spanish legal decision effectively disqualifying them from sitting in the assembly despite winning seats in the May European elections.

The court rejected their request, finding that because the Spanish authorities did not include their names on a list of legislators sent to the EU assembly, "the applicants were not officially declared as elected".

However, the higher European Court of Justice said on Friday that the decision "is annulled and the matter referred back to the General Court to be re-examined".

Mr Puigdemont and Mr Comin have been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since they fled Spain in 2017 as some of their associates were jailed over a banned independence referendum in Catalonia. Spain has issued warrants for their arrest, but they have launched a legal appeal against the move.

The banned referendum, which came amid a police crackdown, sparked one of Spain's biggest political crises in decades and protests continue in the relatively wealthy north-east region of 7.5 million people.

The ECJ decision came a day after it ruled that former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a prison sentence for his role in the banned referendum, had the right to parliamentary immunity when he was on trial.

The Luxembourg-based court said people like Mr Junqueras who are elected as EU legislators "enjoy, from the moment the results are declared, the immunity" to travel to and take part in parliamentary sessions.

After that verdict, Mr Junqueras tweeted: "Justice has come from Europe. Our rights and those of 2,000,000 citizens who voted for us have been violated. Annulment of the sentence and freedom for all! Persist as we have done!"