SPAIN’s near-manic pursuit of exiled Catalan independence leaders descended into farce yesterday when former president Carles Puigdemont was released from jail in Sardinia after being arrested when he arrived there.

And an Italian judge ruled that he can now leave the island before his next hearing on October 4, when he can appear virtually. That hearing will decide whether he can be extradited to Spain under a European arrest warrant which was believed to be suspended.

On leaving prison Puigdemont said: “Spain never tires of making a fool of itself.”

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The former Catalan president, wanted in Spain for rebellion after leading the 2017 indyref and declaration of independence, travelled to Sardinia from Brussels on Thursday afternoon to visit a folklore and cultural event in the Catalan-speaking city of Alghero.

Agostinoangelo Marras, a lawyer for Puigdemont, said: “He has faith that the matter will be resolved as quickly as possible.”

Puigdemont was arrested on Thursday night when he arrived at Alghero-Fertilia Airport. As well as the cultural event, he was also due to meet Sardinian indy supporters – the island has strong Catalan cultural roots and its own independence movement.

Police transferred him to a jail in the city of Sassari on Thursday night after he was detained on an international arrest warrant. This was despite the fact that Spain’s high court had already told European judicial authorities that the warrants for him, and fellow MEPs Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin, were suspended.

The National: Former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont (centre) poses with Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

From left: Clara Ponsati, Carles Puigdemont, and Toni Comin

Demonstrators outside the courthouse held signs in a Sardinian dialect proclaiming, “Democracy, the Sardinian nation supports the Catalan nation”, and held the flags of Sardinia and Catalonia.

In Barcelona, several protests were held following Puigdemont’s arrest, including one outside the Italian consulate. Hundreds of his supporters were last night crowding on ferries to Sardinia.

Spain insisted the arrest warrants were still active, but Puigdemont’s lawyers argued that when the Supreme Court raised the issue of Catalan exiles at EU courts in March, the extradition request was suspended.

The European General Court stated on July 30 that the warrant against Puigdemont was considered suspended when Spain raised its questions to the judges in Luxembourg. Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena, the bête noire of the Catalan independence movement who is charge of Puigdemont’s case in Madrid, sent a letter to the European Union’s Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation stating that the warrant is “in force and pending the capture of those accused of rebellion”.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said Puigdemont must submit to justice like any other citizen.

Speaking on a visit to the volcano-ravaged island of La Palma, he said:“When Puigdemont fled from the action of justice there was another government. This government has always maintained the same position.

“First of all, I respect all the judicial procedures that are opened in Spain, in Europe, in this case in Italy.

“And without any doubt, I also respect and abide by the judicial decisions that can be taken in this regard in Italy.”

Catalan president Pere Aragones earlier demanded Puigdemont’s release, and indicated he would travel to Sardinia to see him.

“It [Spain’s] is a judicial system that only seeks revenge,” said Aragones. “The only solution is through amnesty and self-determination.

“The State has deceived European justice. This does not contribute to generating trust between the parties.”