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Spanish judge issues arrest warrant for Catalan leader Puigdemont

  • The warrant is for Carles Puigdemont and four members of his ousted cabinet
  • All are currently in Belgium, and failed to attend court in Madrid on Thursday
  • A further eight former Catalan ministers were remanded in custody
  • A ninth was released on bail

Eric Vidal/Reuters

A Spanish judge has issued a European arrest warrant for Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four members of his ousted cabinet, according to Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.

All are currently in Belgium, and failed to attend a High Court hearing in Madrid on Thursday.

A further eight former Catalan ministers were remanded in custody as part of the ongoing investigation into the Catalonia region's independence bid. A ninth, Santi Vila, who left the cabinet before last week's independence declaration and has been pushing for a negotiated solution with the central government in Madrid, was released on bail. The nine leaders had appeared for questioning at the court.

The High Court had issued a summons Wednesday for Puigdemont and 13 of his colleagues to appear.

The summons came after Spain's chief prosecutor called for charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement to be brought against Puigdemont and other members of the Catalan government and parliament for their roles in a pro-independence movement and declaration of independence.

Instead, Puigdemont and four of his colleagues traveled to Brussels in Belgium and hired a lawyer. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Puigdemont said he was not in the Belgian capital to escape justice but to "put the Catalan issue at the heart of the European Union."

Puigdemont's lawyer Paul Bekaert told Reuters that his client would not travel to Spain where the political climate was "not good," but would cooperate with Spanish and Belgian justice.

A decision on a warrant for his arrest is expected to follow the testimonies of the remaining nine members of Puigdemont's sacked cabinet who have appeared in court.

If Puigdemont is arrested it would make it unlikely that he could participate in regional elections, called by Spain after it sacked the Catalan government last week, on December 21.

- Reuters contributed to this report.