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Spanish court withdraws arrest warrants issued for Catalan leaders

A judge in the Spanish Supreme Court has withdrawn European and international arrest warrants issued for leaders of an independence movement in northeastern Catalonia region.

A Supreme Court spokesman said Tuesday that former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four members of his former cabinet will no longer need to fight extradition in Belgium, where they have stayed since a crackdown began in Catalonia against the region’s push for independence late in October.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the five were still subject to domestic warrants and they would be arrested if they return to Spain to contest a fresh regional election slated for December 21.

Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena said that new evidence had been found suggesting that alleged crimes of rebellion by Puigdemont and allies were a group action, leading to the withdrawal of individual warrants issued against them.

Llarena said the domestic warrants stayed because the five had to still face rebellion, sedition and embezzlement among other charges. He added that diminished charges would be a “distortion” for other suspects already facing the probe in Spain.

Puigdemont, the main engineer of a controversial referendum of independence in Catalonia in early October, read an independence declaration on October 27 only to give Madrid the pretext to sack his government and launch a sweeping crackdown on those involved in the secession push.

There has been no indication that he will return to Spain from Belgium, where judges had been reviewing his extradition request.

“For the moment he stays in Belgium,” his lawyer Paul Bekaert said, adding that the new statement by Spain’s Supreme Court could mean that the extradition process against the five would be ended in Belgium.

Belgian prosecutor’s office, which had announced December 14 for a decision on the case, said it was assessing the new situation.

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