World

Belgium hopes to act on warrant for hiding Catalan leader

Belgium hopes to act on warrant for hiding Catalan leader

"We will give it to an investigative judge maybe tomorrow or the day after", Eric Van der Sypt told Reuters.

The comments came just hours after Spain issued an arrest warrant on sedition and other charges for Puigdemont.

"We consider ourselves a legitimate government", Puigdemont told Belgian state television RTBF on Friday. He is believed to be in Belgium, where he and some aides fled after the Spanish government removed them from office a week ago.

Mr Puigdemont and several ousted Cabinet members remain in Brussels, where he said they are seeking "safety and freedom" while judges back in Spain investigate them for pushing Catalan secession.

The 54-year-old has been holed up in Belgium since Monday and ignored a summons to appear before the judge in Madrid, saying he wants guarantees he will receive a fair trial.

During the last regional election in September 2015, Puigdemont's conservative PdeCat and the far-left ERC party stood together in a "Together for Yes" coalition. On Thursday, ex-Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras and seven other former regional ministers were jailed without the opportunity to post bail.

On the other side of the political divide over Catalonia, a senior official of a large separatist party, the Republican Left, conditioned her party's participation in the December 21 elections on the release of all the jailed separatists.

Fueled by questions of cultural identity and economic malaise, secessionist sentiment has skyrocketed to reach roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia, a prosperous region that is proud of its Catalan language spoken along with Spanish.

The frustrated unilateral independence declaration of Catalonia has already damaged tourism and deterred investment.

Spain's deepest political crisis in decades flared up after the regional parliament in Catalonia voted to proclaim an independent republic following a referendum on October 1 that was declared illegal by the country's Constitutional Court.

In the Basque city of Bilbao in northern Spain, several thousand people marched Saturday despite the rain to protest the intervention of the Spanish government in Catalonia's self-rule.


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