Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
World | By Melba Underwood

Catalan separatists kept in jail as campaigning begins

Catalan separatists kept in jail as campaigning begins

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.

However, today's ruling by the supreme court judge Pablo Llarena robs Mr Puigdemont and his colleagues of at least one of their gripes against Madrid.

His lawyer said at the weekend that Puigdemont would remain in Belgium until after the Catalan elections.

Despite the withdrawal of the warrants today, the judge in Spain said the group still faced possible charges for sedition and rebellion, with the latter carrying up to 30 years in prison.

Although the European Union and worldwide arrest warrants have been withdrawn, the Spanish arrest warrants still remain and the five ex-officials will be arrested when they return to Spain.

Madrid hopes the elections will restore normality to the wealthy northeastern region, which declared independence in vain following the referendum.

The crimes are punishable in Spain with decades in prison. Mr. Puigdemont is hoping to run for re-election from Brussels.

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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.

However, pro-independence parties view the election as a proxy vote on a split from Spain.

On Tuesday, campaigning began for the December 21 Catalan regional election that Madrid called in an attempt to resolve the crisis by installing an administration in favor of Spanish unity.

The poll showed parties that back Spanish unity would capture 68-69 seats. 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. Puigdemont would be arrested if he went to Spain, he said.

The ruling also coincided with the official opening on Tuesday of the campaign before the December 21 elections for a new regional Parliament in Catalonia.

He said under European law the Belgian court could reject some of the reasons behind the warrant, which could possibly limit the charges brought against Puigdemont and the four others and create inequalities with Catalan leaders on trial in Spain.

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