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Belgium studying international warrant for Puigdemont

Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont arrives for a press conference in Brussels, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials, including the ex-regional leader. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

Belgian state prosecutors are examining international arrest warrants issued by Spain for the ousted leader of Catalonia and other members of his disbanded Cabinet.

Carles Puigdemont and four of his ex-ministers fled to Belgium this week after being removed from power by Spanish authorities as part of an extraordinary crackdown to impede the region's illegal declaration of independence.

Federal prosecutors in Belgium said on Saturday that they were studying the warrants and that they had shared them with city counterparts in Brussels.

A Spanish National Court judge issued warrants for the five separatist politicians on suspicion of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement on Friday, a day after the same judge sent another eight former Catalan Cabinet members to jail without bail while her investigation continued.

A ninth former Catalan Cabinet member spent a night in jail and was freed after posting bail.

Mr Puigdemont wrote in Dutch on his Twitter account on Saturday that he is "prepared to fully co-operate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain".

However, Mr Puigdemont's lawyer in Brussels had previously said that his client plans to fight extradition to Spain without requesting political asylum.

Legal experts estimate that the process from arrest to extradition, including appeals, could take as long as two months before Mr Puigdemont would be sent back to Spain.

That delay could give Mr Puigdemont time to influence, and even participate albeit from afar, in the snap regional election called by Spain's government for Catalonia on December 21.

While Mr Puigdemont remains in Brussels, in north-eastern Spain political forces are hurriedly jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain's worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.

While pro-union parties try to rally support to win back control of the regional parliament in Barcelona, pro-secession parties are debating whether or not to form one grand coalition for the forthcoming ballot.

Parties have until Tuesday to register as coalitions or they must run separately.
Mr Puigdemont weighed in on the debate on Saturday, backing his centre-right Democratic Party of Catalonia's push to form one pro-secession bloc.

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