Spain issues arrest warrant for Catalan leader

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Spain on Friday issued an arrest warrant on sedition and other charges for former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who went to Brussels after his government was sacked following a declaration of independence.

A Madrid High Court judge 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.

The judge rejected a request from the former Catalan leader, who is considering standing in a snap election in Catalonia next month, to testify via video conference from Belgium.

Puigdemont has said he did not trust Spanish justice but would cooperate with the Belgian courts. Belgium will have a maximum of three months to decide whether to send him back toSpain.

On Thursday, nine members of Puigdemont’s sacked cabinet were ordered by the High Court to be held in custody pending an investigation and potential trial.

“We consider ourselves a legitimate government,” Puigdemont told Belgian state television RTBF on Friday. “There must be a continuity to tell the world what’s going on in Spain… It’s not with a government in jail that the elections will be neutral, independent, normal.”

“…I am ready to be a candidate… it’s possible to run acampaign from anywhere,” he added, referring to the election called by authorities in Madrid when Prime Minister MarianoRajoy took over Catalonia.

In protest at the jailings, Catalan civic groups Asamblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural — whose leaders were imprisoned last month on sedition charges — called for ageneral strike on November 8 and a mass demonstration on November 11 .

Another six Catalan leaders are due to testify on Nov. 9 onthe same charges.

One member of the dismissed cabinet, Santi Vila, was released after paying bail of 50,000 euros ($58,300) on Friday. The other eight were not given bail and could remain in custodyfor up to four years.

Vila stepped down from the Catalan  cabinet before Friday’s independence declaration, and while he remains a supporter of an secession he has been advocating a negotiated solution with the central government.

He has said he wanted to stand as the leading candidate for Puigdemont’s PdeCat (Catalan Democratic party) in the regional election.