Exiled Spanish Catalan leader seeks EU mediation

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont poses with his new book 'The Catalan crisis' during an AFP interview

The exiled former president of the Spanish region of Catalonia wants Europe to step in to mediate an end to the stand-off with Madrid, he told AFP Tuesday.

In a book on the crisis that forced him to flee a Spanish arrest warrant, Carles Puigdemont suggests EU President Donald Tusk would fit the bill.

But, speaking to AFP after launching the book in the Belgian capital Brussels, Puigdemont conceded he had not broached the idea with the former Polish leader.

"I cite him simply because of the importance of his role, for his great neutrality, as one possibility, not the only one," the pro-independence leader said.

Tusk, who heads the council of leaders of EU member states, criticised the use of force to counter last year's banned Catalonia independence referendum, but has said Madrid is his only interlocutor.

His office on Tuesday reiterated that position, adding it had not been "aware" of Puigdemont's suggestion.

"President Tusk will, as he has said repeatedly before, continue his approach with encouraging dialogue, avoiding the use of force and respecting the rule of law," the office said in a statement.

"The solution should be found within Spain and in full respect of Spain's constitution."

The European Commission, the union's executive arm, has always described the crisis as an internal matter for Spain to resolve with its region.

Puigdemont's former Catalan administration staged the independence vote despite a Spanish court order banning it and a determined police operation.

He and some of his colleagues has since sought refuge in Belgium and a new Catalan government has opened a tentative dialogue with Spain's central authorities.

In his book -- "The Catalan Crisis: An Opportunity for Europe" -- and in his interview, Puigdemont called for "independent international mediation."

He says his priority would be a negotiation with Spain to lead to a "recognised referendum", but says that otherwise October's vote remains legitimate.

Puigdemont still faces arrest in Spain and up to 25 years in prison if convicted of "rebellion". He lives in a villa in the Brussels suburb of Waterloo.

"I'm not thinking of playing a future role," he insists in his book. "I just want to return to normal life and to live as freely as possible."