BARCELONA: The sacked leader of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont claimed Tuesday that he fled to Belgium because Spain was preparing a "wave of oppression and violence" against his separatist movement.
Puigdemont, whose government declared independence from Spain last month and was then dismissed by Madrid, is in Belgium facing extradition on charges of rebellion and sedition.
"I'm absolutely convinced that the Spanish state was preparing a harsh wave of repression and violence for which we would have all been held responsible," he told Catalan radio.
He said he and four former ministers were representing Catalonia's "government in exile" in Belgium, where several of his ousted cabinet members travelled last week in a bid to garner international support for his independence drive.
Puigdemont didn't explain how his travelling to Belgium avoided the violence he claimed Madrid had been planning.
Following a banned referendum on October 1, which saw those who voted overwhelmingly back splitting from Spain, the Catalan parliament declared independence -- a move not recognised by Madrid or any other government.
Spain responded by suspending Catalonia's autonomy and dismissing its lawmakers.
Fresh regional elections are slated for December 21.
Puigdemont says he is ready to run in the new vote. He and four other former ministers will appear in front of a Belgian judge next week over Spain's extradition request.