European arrest warrants issued for Catalan politicians

Catalonia's political leader carles Puigdemont

EPAOusted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont at a press conference in Brussels

A Madrid High Court judge on Friday asked Belgium to arrest Puigdemont and four associates after they ignored a court order to return to Spain on Thursday to answer charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to their secessionist campaign. "There must be a continuity to tell the world what's going on in Spain".

Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo deflected questions by the media regarding the jailing of the Catalan officials. The regional government was removed from power and an early election was called for December 21.

Bekaert said his client would appeal should an extradition request be approved by a Belgian judge.

Mr Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there.

The issuance of the warrant for Puigdemont's arrest was expected but still increases the tension between Catalan leaders and the Spanish national government, which so far has thwarted the independence drive.

The lawyers argued yesterday that Jordi Sanchez, who leads Assemblea Nacional Catalana, and Jordi Cuixart, who heads Omnium Cultural, should be released because the political situation in Catalonia has changed since the probe began last month. Sanchez and Cuixart are being investigated for allegedly orchestrating protests that hindered a judicial investigation to halt preparations for a banned independence referendum. The other eight could remain in custody for up to four years.

"I ask for all political parties across Spain, appealing to their democratic values, to put an end to this awful situation that has put politicians in prison", Vila said as he left the Estremera prison near Madrid.

As thousands of people protested across Catalonia, he said: "Imprisoning political leaders for fulfilling an electoral commitment breaks down the basic principles of democracy".

The comments came just hours after Spain issued an arrest warrant on sedition and other charges for Puigdemont, who went to Brussels after his government was sacked over a declaration of independence. The court postponed a hearing on Thursday until next week to allow more time for them to prepare their defence.

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