Tens of thousands of pro-independence campaigners expected to gather in Perpignan
Former president Puigdemont attends rally: 'I set foot in Catalonia after two years in exile'
Tens of thousands of pro-independence supporters were expected to gather in a political event in Perpignan, French Catalonia, on Saturday morning, with former president Carles Puigdemont attending.
The rally is due to begin at noon and will take place in Parc de les Exposicions, with at least 70,000 people expected.
The rally has been organized by the exiled politician's private organization, Consell de la República, and it will be especially symbolic because it is the first time that Puigdemont and other exiled leaders Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí set foot in Rousillon, an area belonging to Catalonia until 1659, when Spain ceded it to France. Thus the region whose capital is Perpignan is widely called Northern Catalonia or French Catalonia. Some people still speak Catalan there and keep some traditions and symbols from before 1659.
Puigdemont arrived on Friday and tweeted: "We have entered Catalonia. We are very happy and emotional of setting foot in Catalonia as free people, after two years and three months living in exile. Thanks to everyone who made it possible."
In the eve of the rally the former president attended a match of USAP Perpinyà, the rugby local team.
Puigdemont, the exiled president
The former head of government went into exile in late October 2017, few days after the Catalan declaration of independence. He has not returned to Catalonia ever since and he faces an arrest warrant in Spain. Although he lives in Belgium, he has travelled to several EU countries during this time.
Yet, he did not set foot in France for the first time until he was confirmed his immunity as MEP last month – before then he had feared France would extradite him.
He was elected MEP in the May 2019 EU election, but it was not until a EU court ruling in December 2019 that he was accepted and was able to take office.
After two failed Spanish extradition attempts, he faces a third one but the procedures are suspended until the EU parliament decides on whether to waive his immunity.
The former health minister Toni Comín and the former education minister Clara Ponsatí have similar stories, with her having exiled in Scotland.