Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near

Spanish judge withdraws Puigdemont arrest warrant

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.

After receiving a request to free the 10 Catalan leaders, Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena decided there was a risk that Junqueras and three others would repeat their alleged offences if released.

The warrant was originally issued after Puigdemont and Antonio Comin, Lluis Puig, Meritxell Serret and Clara Ponsati travelled to Belgium in the wake of the Catalan unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.

"Llarena said he had been moved to act after becoming aware of a discrepancy between Belgian and Spanish law that would limit the charges under which the Catalans could be extradited and therefore be charged on their return."Sources in Brussels believe Puigdemont's lawyer was preparing to argue that the definitions in Belgian law for the crimes of sedition and rebellion are different to those on the Spanish statute books".

Campaigning began Tuesday in Catalonia for fresh regional elections on December 21.

Puigdemont and his associates were due to appear in a Belgian court on December 14, coincidentally, when Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is in Brussels for a meeting of European Union (EU) leaders.

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He also said that the probed politicians have shown their "intention to return to Spain" in order to run for regional elections in Catalonia.

Political parties in Catalonia started campaigning Monday for the early regional election called by the Spanish government in hopes of quashing the region's independence movement and featuring candidates who are either in jail or living overseas to avoid detention.

The Spanish government called the early elections in a bid to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst crisis in almost four decades.

Bekaert said legal proceedings in Belgium were now over.

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. 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.

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