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EU lawmakers to vote on fate of former Catalan president

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this Monday Jan. 13, 2020 file photo, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont reacts during a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. Catalonias former regional president Carles Puigdemont says that he will continue to fight extradition back to Spain if, as he expects, the European Union Parliament strips him of his immunity as a continental lawmaker this week. On Monday March 8, 2021, Puigdemont, along with cohorts Toni Comn and Clara Ponsat, face a vote by the European Parliament to lift their immunity as lawmakers as has been recommended by the parliaments Legal Affairs Committee. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament is voting Monday on whether to lift the immunity of the former president of Spain’s Catalonia region, Carles Puigdemont, and two of his associates, a move which could pave the way for their extradition.

Puigdemont and a number of his colleagues fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest over the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government said was illegal.

In 2019, he, former Catalan health minister Toni Comin and former regional education minister Clara Ponsati won seats in the European Parliament and were afforded protection in their positions as members of the EU assembly.

Last month, the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted 15-8 with two abstentions to recommend waiving their immunity. The full assembly is likely to endorse that decision Monday evening, although the official result of the vote may not be known until Tuesday.

The process is common — around 60 such demands to lift the immunity of various lawmakers were made during the 2014-2019 parliamentary term.

The independence vote in favor of Catalonia breaking away won by a landslide in 2017. But those wanting the relatively rich northern region to remain part of Spain largely stayed home. The central government in Madrid had declared the vote illegal and unconstitutional. Hundreds of people were injured in a police crackdown on the day of the poll.

Spain has attempted to have Puigdemont returned for trial, but failed to convince Belgian justice authorities to extradite him. Any lifting of his parliamentary immunity could lead to a new effort to have him returned.

But Puigdemont has vowed to fight on.

“We contemplate all scenarios, obviously even that we will lose our immunity, which is the most likely,” Puigdemont told The Associated Press on Saturday from his residence in Waterloo, Belgium. “But we know that would not be the end of the road.”