Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, arrested in Italy at Spain's request over an independence referendum that Madrid ruled illegal, is released while he fights extradition.

Carles Puigdemont was taken into custody on Thursday night when he arrived at an airport in Alghero, Sardinia.
Carles Puigdemont was taken into custody on Thursday night when he arrived at an airport in Alghero, Sardinia. (AP)

A judge in Sardinia has ordered Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont released from jail ahead of an Italian court decision on Spain's extradition request.

"All good," Puigdemont told reporters after leaving the prison on Friday.

The judge ruled that Puigdemont is even free to travel ahead of an October 4 extradition hearing.

Puigdemont's Italian lawyer Agostinoangelo Marras told reporters outside the courthouse in Sassari, Sardinia, that when the judge asked Puigdemont if he wanted to be returned to Spain, his client replied "no."

Marras said a three-judge panel would take up the extradition request and decide "in a very short time." 

Meanwhile, according to the judge's decision, Puigdemont must remain in Sardinia pending the outcome of the extradition request.

Puigdemont was taken into custody on Thursday night when he arrived at an airport in Alghero, Sardinia. 

He had been invited to attend a Catalan cultural event as well as a meeting, a few days later, of Sardinian independence sympathisers on the Mediterranean island.

READ MORE: Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont arrested in Italy

Secession from Spain

The 58-year-old is wanted by Madrid on charges of sedition over his attempts to lead a Catalan breakaway from Spain in October 2017.

While serving as the region's president in 2016-2017, Puigdemont pushed for secession from Spain.

He currently holds a seat in the European Union's parliament, although that legislature stripped him of parliamentary immunity.

READ MORE: EU strips Puigdemont, Catalan MEPs of immunity, paving way for extradition

Puigdemont's detention caused a political commotion in Spain, where the topic of Catalan independence has for decades been a deeply divisive issue. 

Separatists demanded his release and scheduled street protests, while right-of-center parties said he should face justice.

Marras said he spoke with Puigdemont and "I found him well. He has faith that the matter will be resolved as quickly as possible.''

Asked if his client was hopeful he would be released, Marras replied, "Obviously."

Puigdemont's arrest drew a sharp rebuke from the Catalan government, with leader Pere Aragones demanding his "immediate release" and saying he would travel to Sardinia to "stand by" the former regional leader.

READ MORE: Catalan leader to demand independence vote in first meeting with Spain PM

Negotiations restart

It also comes at a sensitive time, nine days after the left-leaning Spanish government and regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said during an official visit to the Canary Islands on Friday that he has "respect for all legal procedures opened in Spain, in Europe and, in this case, in Italy."

Sanchez, who recently opened direct talks with Catalan regional leaders, said that "dialogue is the only way to bring together Catalans who have distinct opinions and to bring together Catalans with the rest of Spain."

Just under half of Catalans want to break away from Spain, opinion polls indicate. Most Spaniards don't want Catalonia to be granted independence.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies