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Belgian judge delays decision on warrant for ex-Catalan leader

Aurore Belot, AFP | Lawyers of axed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, including Christophe Marchand (C-R), talk to the press at the Palace of Justice in Brussels on November 17, 2017.

A Belgian judge made no ruling on Friday on a European arrest warrant issued by Spain for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, his lawyer said after a court hearing in Brussels, despite Belgian prosecutors demanding the warrant be exercised.

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Belgian prosecutors had asked the judge Friday to extradite the axed Catalan separatist leader to face charges over his region’s independence drive.

Instead, the case for Puigdemont’s defence will be made at a hearing early next month.

“We will make our case on December 4. The prosecutor has asked for the extradition warrant to be exercised. Nothing has been decided today,” Paul Bekaert told reporters outside the main Brussels court.

The prosecutor had determined that according to Belgian law Puigdemont and four of his former ministers who travelled with him to Brussels were charged with conspiracy by public officials, Bekaert added.

Under the Spanish warrant, all five faced charges of rebellion and sedition.

They had left Spain after Puigdemont’s regional government was sacked by Madrid for unilaterally declaring Catalonia independent following a referendum on secession that court authorities in Madrid had ruled was illegal.

Spain to 'comply'

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday he will comply with whatever decision a Belgian court makes over the extradition of axed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

“I trust the legal process and, above all, I respect and abide by its decisions,” Rajoy said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, after Belgian prosecutors asked a judge to extradite Puigdemont from Belgium.

The European arrest warrant system in place since 2004 makes it easier for EU countries to demand the extradition from other EU states of people wanted for crimes, and removes political decision-making from the process. EU countries issue thousands of such warrants each year.

The Oct. 1 referendum and subsequent turmoil have plunged Spain into its gravest political crisis since the return of democracy four decades ago.

Puigdemont has since said he might consider a solution that did not involve secession.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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