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Spanish Judge orders custody for Catalan leaders pending trial

A Spanish judge ordered nine Catalan secessionist leaders to be held in custody pending a potential trial over the region’s independence push.

The lawyer for ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said a warrant had also been issued for his client’s arrest — though the statement was dismissed by a senior official in Spain’s High Court. The reason for the differing accounts was not immediately clear.

In a short address broadcast by Catalan regional television TV3, Mr. Puigdemont called for the release of “the legitimate government of Catalonia”, a call echoed by hundreds of people gathered outside the Catalan parliament.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked Puigdemont and his government last week, hours after the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence — a vote boycotted by the opposition and declared illegal by Spanish courts.

Puigdemont later travelled to Belgium with four associates and ignored an order to appear before the High Court to answer charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the region’s secessionist drive.

“Mr. Puigdemont will stay here. He has said that he will fully cooperate with Belgian authorities during the procedure,” lawyer Paul Bekaert told Belgian state broadcaster VRT.

He said Puigdemont had told him a European arrest warrant has been issued, though the court source said that would most likely happen on Friday.

The detention of the secessionist leaders and Mr. Puigdemont’s flight to Belgium make it difficult for leading figures from the independence movement to stand in a snap election in the wealthy region called by the Spanish government for December 21.

Mr. Puigdemont said on Tuesday he would go back to Spain only if given unspecified guarantees by the Spanish government. His flight appears to have cost some support for his cause at home.

“President, enough is enough,” the influential Catalan newspaper el Peridico, which has been sceptical of the case for independence, said on its front page on Wednesday.

Ebelio Ramos, a pensioner from the pro-independence town of Berga said: “I don’t know what they’re thinking about but when someone does what he did and declares independence and then flees… A president has to fulfil the law and if he doesn’t, it is better that he stays calm, because if he starts doing something outside the law, he is going to lose everything.”

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