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Belgium arrests Catalan boss

Brussels prosecutors said Sunday that ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four ex-regional ministers were taken into custody to start the process of their possible extradition to Spain.

The five presented themselves to federal police at around 9 a.m. (0800 GMT; 3 a.m. EST), Brussels prosecutor's office spokesman Gilles Dejemeppe said. He said that they haven't been arrested and that Puigdemont and the four members of his disbanded Cabinet will be heard by an investigative judge later in the day.

The Belgian judge will have to decide within 24 hours what comes next for the five separatist politicians wanted in Spain on suspicion of rebellion for pushing through a declaration of independence for the northeastern Catalonia in violation of Spain's Constitution.

Dejemeppe said the judge's options range from "refusal to execute the European arrest, arresting the people involved, releasing them on conditions or under bail." He said if they are arrested then they will be sent to jail as the extradition process continues. Dejemeppe said that the entire process from arrest to extradition, could take more than 60 days.

That delay could give Puigdemont time to participate, albeit from afar and in largely a symbolic capacity, in the snap regional election called by Spain's government for Catalonia on Dec. 21.

A senior official of Puigdemont's party, the centre-right Democratic Party of Catalonia, said on Sunday that the party wanted Puigdemont to repeat as its candidate. Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo has said that any politician can run in the election unless he or she has been convicted of a crime.

Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers fled to Belgium this past week after being removed from power by Spanish authorities as part of an extraordinary crackdown to quash the region's illegal secession claim.

A Spanish National Court judge issued warrants for the five absconded lawmakers on suspicion of five crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, on Friday, a day after the same judge sent another eight former Catalan Cabinet members to jail without bail while her investigation continues. A ninth spent a night in jail and was freed after posting bail.

Puigdemont wrote in Dutch in his Twitter account on Saturday that he was "prepared to fully co-operate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain."

Puigdemont's lawyer in Brussels had previously said that his client plans to fight extradition to Spain without requesting political asylum.

Political forces in Catalonia are hurriedly jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain's worst institutional crisis in nearly four decades.

While pro-union parties try to rally support to win back control of the regional parliament in Barcelona, pro-secession parties are debating whether or not to form one grand coalition for the upcoming ballot.

Parties have until Tuesday to register as coalitions or they must run separately.



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