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Catalan ex-president released by Belgian judge

Warrants issued for Puigdemont, four others Friday

(CNN) - Catalonia's former leader has been released by a Belgian judge after turning himself in to police in Brussels, according to his lawyer.

Ex-President Carles Puigdemont was granted conditional release by the judge, Puigdemont's lawyer, Paul Bekaert, confirmed. Puigdemont, along with the four former Catalan parliamentarians who had also surrendered, are due in court in the Belgian capital within 15 days.

Puigdemont and the other Catalan officials sought by Spanish authorities turned themselves in to Belgian police on Sunday, officials said.

A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont on Friday, a day after eight members of the dissolved Catalan government were jailed in Spain.

Puigdemont, who considers himself the rightful leader of Catalonia, has said he went to Belgium not to flee the Spanish court system, but rather to seek European support for his region's independence bid.

Puigdemont tweeted Saturday that he and his associates are "prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain."

Spain was plunged into its worst political crisis in decades after Puigdemont's administration held an independence referendum October 1 despite the nation's highest court banning the move.

The Catalan parliament then declared unilateral independence, and Madrid responded by suspending the region's autonomy, sacking the government and imposing direct rule.

Carmen Lamela, a judge in Spain's National Court, asked the Belgian prosecutor's office to arrest Puigdemont and four ministers in the dissolved Catalan government who ignored a court order to appear before a judge Thursday.

The charges include sedition, rebellion, misuse of funds, abuse of authority and contempt. The other four named in warrants are Toni Comin, Clara Ponsati, Lluis Puig and Meritxell Serret.

Puigdemont and 13 former ministers were ordered to appear before the Spanish high court on Thursday. Of the nine former officials who showed up, eight were detained and one was freed on bond.

Puigdemont didn't appear and issued a video message calling the court's action "an attack on democracy."

He and some of his former ministers turned up in Brussels earlier this week after Spain's state prosecutor announced he would seek charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against them.


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