Belgium studying Spanish warrant for ex-Catalan leader

2017-11-06 09:23
Carles Puigdemont (AFP)

Carles Puigdemont (AFP)

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Brussels - Belgian state prosecutors on Sunday were examining international arrest warrants issued by Spain for the ousted leader of Catalonia and other members of his disbanded Cabinet.

Carles Puigdemont and four of his ex-ministers fled to Belgium this past week after being removed from power by Spanish authorities as part of an extraordinary crackdown to impede the region's illegal declaration of independence.

Federal prosecutors in Belgium said on Saturday that they were studying the warrants and that they had shared them with city counterparts in Brussels.

The Brussels prosecutor said he would make a statement at 13:00 GMT about the warrants.

A Spanish National Court judge issued warrants for the five separatist politicians on suspicion of five crimes, including rebellion, rebellion and embezzlement, on Friday, a day after the same judge sent another eight former Catalan Cabinet members to jail without bail while her investigation continues.

Political asylum

A ninth spent a night in jail and was freed after posting bail.

Puigdemont wrote in Dutch in his Twitter account on Saturday that he is "prepared to fully co-operate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain".

However, Puigdemont's lawyer in Brussels had previously said that his client plans to fight extradition to Spain without requesting political asylum.

Legal experts consulted by The Associated Press estimate that the process from arrest to extradition, including appeals, could take as long as two months before Puigdemont would be sent back to Spain.

That delay could give Puigdemont time to influence, and even participate albeit from afar, in the snap regional election called by Spain's government for Catalonia on December 21.

While Puigdemont remains absconded in Europe's capital, back in north-eastern Spain political forces are hurriedly jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain's worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.

While pro-union parties try to rally support to win back control of the regional parliament in Barcelona, pro-secession parties are debating whether or not to form one grand coalition for the upcoming ballot.

Parties have until November 7 to register as coalitions or they must run separately. Puigdemont weighed in on the debate Saturday, backing his centre-right Democratic Party of Catalonia's push to form one pro-secession bloc.

Catalan ex-regional president Artur Mas, the first leader to harness the political momentum for secession, told Catalan public television on Sunday that he backed a fusion of parties for the December vote.

But, he said, the main goals must be to recover the self-rule of the region and the release of the jailed separatists, not another immediate attempt to culminate the independence drive.

"Under these exceptional circumstances that our country is going through, don't we have to substitute the normal and logical competition for the cooperation we all need?" Mas said. "If we add the issue of independence, we won't get as many people to support us."

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