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Arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont

A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four aides who were last seen in Brussels.

National Court investigating judge Carmen Lamela filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain the five, and issued separate international search and arrest warrants to alert Europol in case they flee Belgium.

According to the judge, the five are being sought for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for Catalonia.

Mr Puigdemont and his aides flew to Brussels after Spanish authorities removed him and his Cabinet from office on Saturday for demanding independence.

The Spanish government has also called an early regional election for December 21.

Mr Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer has said that his client will fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum.

Belgian federal prosecutors said they had received the arrest warrant and could question Mr Puigdemont in the coming days.

"We will study it, and put it in the hands of an investigating judge," spokesman Eric Van Der Sijpt told The Associated Press. "We are not in any hurry."

Mr Puigdemont told the Belgian state broadcaster that he was in Belgium "ready to be a candidate" in the December 21 polls and because he had lost faith in the Spanish justice system.

"We can run a campaign anywhere because we're in a globalised world," he told RTBF, adding that he was not in Belgium to "Belgianise Catalan politics".

He did not flee, but it was impossible to properly prepare a legal defence while in Spain, he told the broadcaster.

If Belgium acts on the international warrant issued by Spain and arrests him, Mr Puigdemont would have to be brought before an investigating judge within 24 hours. His extradition procedure would take 15 days, Belgian legal experts say.

But should Mr Puigdemont appeal, that process could take a further 45 days, meaning that he would probably not leave Belgium before early January, well after the elections.

In her decision on Friday, Judge Carmen Lamela said that Mr Puigdemont "apparently is in Belgium".

She accused him of "leading the mobilisation of the pro-independence sectors of the population to act in support of the illegal referendum and thus the secession process outside the legal channels to reform the constitution".

Spain says the only legal way to achieve secession is by reforming the 1978 Constitution with an ample majority in the national parliament.

The constitution says the country is "indivisible" and does not allow regional votes on sovereignty.

The arrest warrant came a day after the same judge jailed nine former members of Mr Puigdemont's separatist government.

All members of the ousted cabinet were ordered to appear at Spain's National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion investigation. Five of them, including Mr Puigdemont, did not show up.

Spanish prosecutors want to charge members of the dismissed regional government -as well as six additional members of the regional parliament- for promoting official steps to declaring Catalonia's independence.

AP

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