European arrest warrants withdrawn for Catalan leaders

  • European arrest warrants withdrawn for Catalan leaders

European arrest warrants withdrawn for Catalan leaders

A Spanish judge withdrew an arrest warrant today for the former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and four other ministers who relocated to Belgium after declaring independence from Spain and subsequently lost their jobs when Madrid took control of the restive region.

Carles Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members went to Belgium when Madrid imposed direct rule on the wealthy northeastern region after an October 27 declaration of independence by his local government.

He told supporters to view the election as the second part of the referendum.

Campaigning for the December election, called by Madrid in an effort to resolve a crisis over an independence bid by the wealthy northeastern region, started on Tuesday.

The Spanish arrest warrant remains.

Yesterday, the Spanish courts system refused bail for Mr Puigdemont's deputy, former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, as well as deposed Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn and the leaders of two civic groups, ANC and Omnium Cultural.

Removing the worldwide warrant takes Belgium's legal system out of Puigdemont's case.

The extradition case between Spain and Belgium could have run for months as Belgian court decisions could be appealed in higher courts.

Investigating magistrate Pablo Llarena of the Supreme Court said it was important that just one legal entity oversaw proceedings against the former independence leaders to ensure they get equal treatment.

The spokesman asked not to be named in line with court rules. All have said they would not return unless they were guaranteed a fair trial. Afterwards, Puigdemont would be able to leave Belgium.

Mr Puigdemont has not yet reacted to the news, but his lawyer Paul Bekaert appeared surprised when he heard the news from a reporter. Puigdemont would be arrested if he went to Spain, he said.

The court said Carles Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members also in Belgium had shown a willingness to return to Spain to take part in Catalonia's December 21 regional election.

On Tuesday, a Spanish judge, however, said that individual EAWs were not valid for crimes allegedly committed by a wider group of people - in this case, the whole Catalan government.

"I'm very sorry I can't be with you now", he said to cheers from members of his pro-independence Junts per Catalunya party, which organized the rally.