European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and aides

European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and aides

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four colleagues have handed themselves in to police in Belgium.

A Spanish judge issued European arrest warrants on Friday night after Puigdemont and the four former ministers did not testify Thursday in Madrid at a hearing on alleged crimes linked to their drive for independence in Catalonia.

The charges against him are rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust. They fled to Brussels after Madrid's central government imposed direct rule over the autonomous region.

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Puigdemont then fled to Belgium.

Belgium, where a European arrest warrant can be blocked for several mainly procedural reasons, will have a maximum of three months to decide whether to send Puigdemont back to Spain.

Brussels will "study" the arrest warrant, a spokesman for the country's state prosecutor told AFP. He was arrested with four other members of the Catalan government who did not appear before a Spanish high court Thursday.

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Whether in Brussels or Barcelona, Puigdemont is at the heart of political jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain's worst institutional crisis in almost four decades.

Either of those two options could enable the exiled regional leaders to take part in the region's snap election on 21 December. But Mas said the main goals of secession supporters must be recovering self-rule and the release of the jailed separatists. A judge of the Spain's National Court remanded in jail yesterday accused of sedition Jordi Sanchez, president of the Pro-independence organization Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, leader of Omnium Cultural.

Puigdemont and his fellow separatists claimed that a referendum on secession held on October 1 gave them a mandate for independence, even though it had been prohibited by the nation's highest court and only 43 percent of the electorate took part in the vote, which failed to meet global standards and was disrupted by violent police raids.

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Fueled by questions of cultural identity and economic malaise, secessionist sentiment has skyrocketed to reach roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia, a prosperous region that is proud of its Catalan language spoken along with Spanish.

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