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Spanish court rules Catalan ex-leader can stand in European vote

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont greets supporters after he was released on bail from the prison in Neumuenster, northern Germany, Friday, April 6, 2018. (Carsten Rehder /dpa via AP)

A Madrid court ruled on Monday that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in 2017 to escape arrest for his role in an independence referendum, could run in the European Parliament election on May 26.

Spain's electoral commission last month barred Mr Puigdemont and two other fugitive Catalan politicians from standing, but they appealed the decision. Mr Puigdemont and Toni Comin live in Belgium while Clara Ponsati lives in Scotland.

All three face arrest if they return to Spain as the referendum was ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court.

Spain's electoral body originally ruled they could not run, after a suit by conservative parties which have rallied against the independence process: Ciudadanos and People's Party.

But the Madrid court agreed with the Catalans' appeal, saying they had the right to run in the European elections despite being accused of rebellion and other charges for their part in the 2017 declaration of independence.

Catalonia was a central issue throughout campaigning for Spain's inconclusive election on April 28. Regional parties favouring independence could play a part in supporting acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's attempts to form a government.

If Mr Sanchez gets backing from far-left Podemos, which has suggested coalition talks, and from Basque nationalists, he would need the vote, or abstention, of only one other lawmaker to form a government with a parliamentary majority.

With right wing parties standing firmly against Mr Sanchez's efforts to form a government, that one vote or abstention may fall to a pro-independence party in Catalonia.

"There is good legal work behind every victory achieved ... Our team knows what it has on its hands, how to fight, and how to win," Mr Puigdemont said on Twitter shortly after the ruling.