Monday, November 20

Disputed Catalan leader freed on bail in Belgium

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Disputed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers have been released on conditional bail in Belgium after turning themselves in to face a Spanish warrant for their arrest.

A Belgian judge ordered the five, who fled Spain earlier this week after being accused of rebellion and sedition, not to leave the country until their extradition case is heard.

“The request made this afternoon by the Brussels’ Prosecutor’s Office for the provisional release of all persons sought has been granted by the investigative judge,” a statement by the prosecutor’s office said.

“The next step in the proceedings is the appearance of the five defendants before the Chambre du Conseil within the next 15 days.”

Belgium has up to 60 days to decide whether to send the Catalans back to Spain.

It is the latest twist in the crisis unleashed by the Catalan separatists’ push to break away from Spain.

The five separatist politicians fled to Belgium last Monday after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region following the declaration of independence by the parliament there last month.

A Spanish national court issued a warrant for their arrest on Friday after they failed to appear in court to face accusations of rebellion and sedition for calling an independence referendum.

Mr Puigdemont’s declaration of independence for Catalonia prompted the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to take the unprecedented step of using Article 155 of the constitution to impose direct rule.

The move has seen Madrid take control of Catalonia’s civil service, police force and finances and call a snap election on 21 December, which could see as many as 150 of the region’s top officials replaced.

Two polls at the weekend suggested pro-Catalonia independence parties will together win the regional election, although they may fall just short of a majority of seats in parliament needed to revive the secession campaign.

Hundreds of pro-secession Catalans gathered in towns across the region on Sunday.

“We want to send a message to Europe that even if our president is still in Brussels and all our government now is in Madrid jailed, that the independence movement still isn’t finished,” 24-year-old protester Adria Ballester said in Barcelona.

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