Spain Withdraws International Arrest Warrant against Ex-Catalan Leader

Spain Withdraws International Arrest Warrant against Ex-Catalan Leader

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.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena announced the unexpected change of course for Puigdemont, Antonio Comín, Lluís Puig, Meritxell Serret and Clara Ponsatí and ordered the decision to be communicated to Belgian authorities.

The highly polarized parliamentary election set for December 21 is shaping up as a plebiscite between Catalans who support secession and those who favor remaining in Spain.

The judge kept a Spanish arrest warrant in place however, which means the Catalan leader would be detained immediately upon arrival in Spain.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium after the failure of his attempt to secure independence for the autonomous Spanish region following a referendum on October 1.

The five still face Spanish arrest warrants and would be arrested on their return to Spain where they would face charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds and, in Puigdemont's case, disobedience.

Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium after an illegal independence referendum.

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Along with Puigdemont and his ministers in Brussels, all eight are under investigation for rebellion, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

There is also a question that if the former leaders were returned to Spain, it could violate their human rights, under European Union law, based on political discrimination.

Catalans remain deeply split on independence, and several polls suggest pro-secession parties might struggle to win enough seats to form a new regional government.

The Spanish government has said the early election is an attempt to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst crisis in almost four decades. But 53-year-old contractor Jose Luis Aguirre said the attempt to unilaterally break away from Spain "is an act that can not be allowed". It had ERC, Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and the far-left anti-establishment CUP party winning 66 or 67 of the parliament's 135 seats.

The ruling that Junqueras, former regional interior minister Joaquim Forn and two civil society leaders must stay in prison came as the official campaign for Catalan elections on December 21 was due to kick off at midnight.

Because the Belgian penal code doesn't have an equivalent for a charge of "rebellion", the Spanish court withdrew the global warrants to allow for legal action against Puigdemont, as rebellion is one of the most serious crimes attributed to him.

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