Spain Withdraws International Arrest Warrant For Catalan Separatist Leader

Spain Withdraws International Arrest Warrant For Catalan Separatist Leader

Hours before pro-secession parties held evening rallies to launching their bids for seats in the Catalan parliament, a Supreme Court judge in Madrid ruled that four prominent members of the region's independence movement must remain jailed without bail.

The exiled Catalans still face national arrest warrants in Spain, and expect to be arrested if they return there.

According to the statement released by the Spanish court, Llarena argued that the European warrant would complicate the overall probe into Catalan leaders.

He also "highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights" in Spain, which provoked strong condemnation when photographs were published revealing violent attacks on voters by police during the October referendum.

Last month, Spain's central government issued the warrants for Puigdemont and four of his allies-Meritxell Serret, former agriculture minister; Antoni Comín, former health minister; Lluís Puig, former culture minister; and Clara Ponsatí, former education minister. Junqueras was unseated along with ex-president Carles Puigdemont and the rest of Puigdemont's Cabinet after regional lawmakers passed a declaration of independence that Spanish authorities deemed illegal.

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.

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The ruling that Junqueras, former regional interior minister Joaquim Forn and two civil society leaders must stay in prison came as the official campaign for Catalan elections on December 21 was due to kick off at midnight.

The Spanish government has said the early election is an attempt to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst crisis in almost four decades. Polls show both sides neck and neck on a high turnout.

The poll, in which 3,000 people were interviewed, said just over 90% of those questioned were completely certain to vote in the elections while five percent will "probably" go.

Puigdemont's party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), could not be immediately reached for comment.

Bekaert said legal proceedings in Belgium were now over.

Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena said that the individual warrants were no longer valid as the alleged crimes were committed as a group and that the politicians under investigation had illustrated their "intention to return to Spain" in order to run for upcoming elections in Catalonia.

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