Catalan arrest warrants withdrawn by Spain's Supreme Court


Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont appears on a screen during an event of his political platform "Junts per Catalunya" to mark the official start of the electoral campaignImage copyright
Reuters

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Campaigning for the vote officially began at midnight on Monday

A Spanish judge has withdrawn an international arrest warrant for ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four other ministers.

They fled to Belgium a month ago after declaring unilateral independence in a referendum ruled illegal by Spain.

Despite the move, the judge said they still faced possible charges for sedition and rebellion.

Rebellion is considered one of the most serious crimes in Spain, carrying a jail term of up to 30 years.

Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llareno announced the warrant’s withdrawal on Tuesday morning, citing the willingness the Catalan leaders had shown to return ahead of fresh regional elections being held on 21 December.

He said its removal would allow Spain full control over the investigation.

A Belgian judge was previously expected to rule whether to extradite the ministers on 14 December. The five were fighting the move, saying they could not be guaranteed a fair trial on their return.

On Monday six Catalan ex-ministers being held in a prison near Madrid were released from prison on bail. But two others, including former Catalan Vice President Orial Junqueras, were remanded in custody.

Campaigning has now officially started ahead of the new vote organised by Spanish authorities in an attempt to try and resolve the Catalonia crisis.

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Media captionWhy the colour yellow has become contentious in Catalonia

Mr Puigdemont labelled the election as a choice between “nation or submission” while speaking on a video link from Belgium to a rally in Barcelona on Monday night.

He said voters must chose “between Catalan institutions or dark characters in Madrid”.

A seat reserved for the former leader at the event was marked with a yellow ribbon, an emblem that has become a symbol of support for the jailed politicians.

All but one of the 13 Catalan leaders sacked by the Spanish government after the independence referendum are standing for election again in the fresh vote.

A new opinion poll, conducted by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) in late November, suggests that pro-independence parties will fall narrowly short of an absolute majority in the December election.

Mr Puidgemont and Mr Junqueras’ pro-separatist parties are campaigning separately in the new vote, after a divide emerged over the future of the region following the nulled referendum.

The parties ran together in the 2015 election when separatist parties won an overall majority in the Catalan parliament when they won 72 seats.



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