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Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Puigdemont

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attends the launch of a campaign for political platform "Junts per Catalunya" ahead of the December 21, 2017 Catalan regional election

Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said it had withdrawn an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s pro-independence former leader, in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

The court said Carles Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members also in Belgium had shown a willingness to return to Spain to take part in Catalonia’s Dec. 21 regional election.

Campaigning for the election, called by Madrid in an effort to resolve a crisis over an independence bid by the wealthy northeastern region, started on Tuesday.

Madrid hopes parties in favour of unity with Spain will win the election. Pro-independence parties see the poll as a plebiscite on a split from Spain.

It was not clear whether Puigdemont would return immediately to Spain, where he is likely to be detained pending investigations that could take months.

The five sacked politicians travelled to Belgium after a unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament on Oct. 27, considered illegal by Spanish courts.

Puigdemont is facing charges of sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust. A Spanish court issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Nov. 3 on these charges.

Puigdemont’s lawyers have said the crimes of which he and other cabinet members are accused are not punishable under Belgian law. The Belgian judge overseeing the extradition case was expected to deliver a verdict on Dec. 14.

The extradition case between Spain and Belgium could have run for months as Belgian court decisions could be appealed in higher courts.

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