Spain high court drops warrants for Puigdemont, 4 ex-Catalan leaders

Spanish Supreme Court withdraws Carles Puigdemont international arrest warrant

Spain's withdrawal of an arrest warrant for Catalonia's ex-leader was almost inevitable

The announcement came a day after a Belgian judge postponed for a second time, until December 14, a ruling on whether to honor the warrant request.

"Llarena said he had been moved to act after becoming aware of a discrepancy between Belgian and Spanish law that would limit the charges under which the Catalans could be extradited and therefore be charged on their return."Sources in Brussels believe Puigdemont's lawyer was preparing to argue that the definitions in Belgian law for the crimes of sedition and rebellion are different to those on the Spanish statute books".

The exiled Catalans still face national arrest warrants in Spain, and expect to be arrested if they return there.

Catalan separatist parties that tried to break away from Spain would lose their absolute majority in regional parliament in elections later this month, an influential opinion poll showed Monday.

There is also a question that if the former leaders were returned to Spain, it could violate their human rights, under European Union law, based on political discrimination.

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

The Spanish government called the early elections in a bid to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst crisis in almost four decades.

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Puigdemont's party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), could not be immediately reached for comment.

With political campaigning not set to get underway until midnight, Catalan pro-independence groups held protests in front of town halls to oppose the Supreme Court's decision to keep some of the independence movement's leaders in custody. But Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said Monday that it remains to be seen if Junqueras' pledge was "truthful and real".

But Marta Rovira, Junqueras's deputy in his ERC party, said the decision was politically motivated.

"This is a very clear attempt to win these elections without political adversaries", she said.

A Spanish judge withdrew a European arrest warrant on Tuesday against Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan separatist leader who fled to Belgium in the face of charges including rebellion, along with four former members of his regional cabinet.

"Those who commit criminal acts must place themselves at the mercy of legal rulings", Zoido said.

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