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MADRID – The detention in Germany over the weekend of Catalonia's fugitive former president, 55-year-old Carles Puigdemont, is the latest dramatic development for the troubled Spanish region that is deeply divided over the idea of secession. Here's a look at the issue.
WHAT'S BEEN GOING ON?
Spain has been gripped by its most severe political crisis in four decades since Puigdemont's Barcelona-based government disobeyed a court ban and held a referendum on independence for the northeastern region in October. That prompted the Spanish government to strip away Catalonia's large degree of self-government and impose direct rule from Madrid.
Independence has long been a divisive issue in Spain's most prosperous region. But seldom has the tension between Spanish and Catalan authorities built to such a fever pitch, with dozens injured in clashes with police in Catalonia following Puigdemont's capture.
German police, acting on a European warrant issued Friday by Spain, took Puigdemont into custody on Sunday. His capture, facilitated by Spanish intelligence services, came as he entered Germany from Denmark by car. He had been visiting Finland and was returning to Brussels, where he has been living for the past four months to avoid arrest in Spain.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO PUIGDEMONT?
Spain wants Puigdemont to answer for his efforts to bring about Catalonia's independence. Spain's Constitution says the country is "indivisible," and Puigdemont could stand trial on charges of rebellion, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Puigdemont, a former journalist and former mayor of the Catalan city of Girona, was to appear before a German court on Monday. The court was to determine whether he stays in custody pending his possible extradition.
Germany must make a final decision on extradition within 60 days after Puigdemont's capture, though a 30-day extension is possible, and hand him over no more than 10 days after a final decision in favor of extradition.
There are very limited grounds for extradition to be refused, and European Union countries cooperate closely on criminal issues.
Spain has also issued five warrants for other Catalan separatists who fled the country.
WHERE DOES IT LEAVE CATALONIA?
Catalonia has been without a president or government since December's regional election, which produced a slim majority of pro-independence lawmakers in the Catalan parliament.
The Spanish government says it won't relinquish its control over Catalonia until the region elects a new government that respects Spain's Constitution and a president who isn't facing legal proceedings.
The separatist majority failed for a third time to elect one of its own as regional president during a vote on Thursday. Jordi Turull, a former minister in the previous Catalan government, fell short of the parliamentary votes he needed because of a split within the three parties who seek independence.
The separatist movement has long been dogged by quarreling.
Turull's failure started a two-month countdown to another election being called if no president is elected to form a government. A ballot could be held in the summer.
A Spanish Supreme Court judge's decision on Friday to charge 13 Catalan separatist politicians with rebellion could snatch away the secessionist movement's political leadership and leave its ambitions in disarray.
WHAT DO THE PEOPLE THINK?
Puigdemont's arrest stung the separatists, who were still smarting from the imposition of direct rule.
Tens of thousands protested Sunday in Barcelona and other Catalan towns. Some demonstrators clashed with riot police, leaving 100 civilians and police officers lightly injured.
Annual pro-independence demonstrations in Barcelona have routinely drawn around 1 million people, but they have been notably nonviolent. With hostility increasing, however, Catalonia is a potential powder keg.
The secession issue has deeply divided the region, splitting families and friends. Polls show Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are equally divided over secession, although a majority support holding a legal referendum on the issue.
Pro-Spain parties in the Catalan parliament say their secessionist rivals are single-issue parties and have neglected the region.