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Ousted Catalan vice-president among four secessionists to remain in custody

A Spanish judge has ordered that four prominent members of the Catalan independence movement should remain in custody.

The four include the number two of the ousted regional government, who will campaign in a polarised regional election from a jail near Madrid.

Meanwhile, sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four close separatist allies who are also running for re-election were appearing in a Brussels court again for extradition hearings and a possible decision on whether they will be sent back to Spain.

The group is refusing to return to Spain to face rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges that can be punished with decades in prison under the country's criminal laws.

Whatever decision is made on Monday in Brussels, two appeals will be possible and a final ruling could well come only after the December 21 election called by Spain's central authorities, in which Mr Puigdemont is leading his party's campaign.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Spanish government sacked Mr Puigdemont's cabinet when it took control of Catalonia shortly after separatist regional politicians passed a declaration of independence in late October.

The early election is an attempt to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.

But the vote is shaping up as a plebiscite between those for and against independence, with polls predicting a close race between the two camps.

Adding to the uncertainty, a Supreme Court judge decided on Monday to uphold the preventive jailing of ousted Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, who tops the list for the left-republican ERC party.

ERC was part of the former Catalan ruling coalition with Mr Puigdemont's conservative party but is leading the polls ahead of the new election.

Campaigning officially begins at midnight on Monday.

Mr Junqueras and the other jailed politicians pledged last week to give up on efforts to seek unilateral independence for the wealthy northeastern region, in the hope of being freed.

But judge Pablo Llarena said in his decision on Monday that it remains to be seen if Mr Junqueras' pledge to abide by Spanish law is "truthful and real".

The magistrate also upheld custody orders without bail for the former regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn, and the leaders of Assemblea Nacional Catalan and Omnium Cultural, the two Catalan grassroots groups that have been the main drivers of the separatist bid in Catalonia.

Mr Llarena set bail of 100,000 euro for the six other Catalan politicians who had been jailed in early November, and ordered their passports to be confiscated.

The six were expected to leave jails near Madrid later on Monday.

AP

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