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Catalan Leader Turns himself into Belgian Police

Catalan Leader Turns himself into Belgian Police

Sunday, 5 November, 2017 - 13:15
Sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attends a news conference at the Press Club Brussels Europe in Brussels, Belgium, October 31, 2017. (Reuters)

The sacked leader of Spain’s Catalonia turned himself over to Belgian police on Sunday, reported the public broadcaster VRT citing a source.

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.

Prosecutors in Belgium were examining international arrest warrants issued by Spain for the ousted leader and other members of his disbanded cabinet.

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. 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 cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain."

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 northeastern 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 Tuesday to register as coalitions or they must run separately. Puigdemont weighed in on the debate Saturday, backing his center-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."

The separatist majority of Catalonia's Parliament ignored repeated warnings from Spanish authorities and voted in favor of a declaration of independence on October 27. The next day, Spain's central government used extraordinary constitutional powers to fire Catalonia's government, take charge of its administrations, dissolve its regional parliament and call a regional election.

Spain's Constitution says the nation is "indivisible" and that all matters of national sovereignty pertain to the country's parliament.

In all, Spanish prosecutors are investigating 20 regional politicians for rebellion and other crimes that could be punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Another two leaders of pro-secession grassroots groups are also in jail while an investigation continues into suspicion of sedition.

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