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Sunday
Nov052017

Catalonia's ousted president turns himself in to Belgian police

Thierry Monasse/Corbis/Getty Images(BARCELONA, Spain) -- The ousted leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his former government ministers have turned themselves in to Belgian police, according to Belgium's state broadcaster.

Puigdemont and his associates were wanted on European arrest warrants. They had fled north to Brussels following Spain's removal of Catalonia's top representatives from office, part of Madrid's crackdown in response to the region's declaration of independence.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office said the five former Catalan officials presented themselves to Belgian federal police and have been in custody since 9 a.m. local time. He said they have not been arrested and that Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers will be heard by an investigative judge Sunday afternoon.

The judge will have to decide the next steps, which could range from arrest and imprisonment to conditional release.

Puigdemont wrote on his Twitter account Saturday that he would "cooperate" with Belgian authorities, although his lawyer has said the pro-independence politician would fight a forced return to Spain.

"We are prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain," Puigdemont wrote in Dutch on Twitter on Saturday.

Besides the Dutch tweet he posted on Saturday, Puigdemont also sent a Twitter message written in Catalan to political followers in northeastern Spain. He weighed in on a debate among secessionists in Catalonia regarding strategy for the December snap election that Spain's government has called as part of its temporary takeover of the restive region.

"It's the moment for all democrats to unite -- for Catalonia, for the freedom of political prisoners and the republic," Puigdemont wrote, endorsing calls for pro-secession political parties to unite in a coalition for the upcoming election.

Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday that politicians, even those who are jailed on suspicion of a crime, can run in the upcoming election unless they are convicted before it takes place. Puigdemont has left the door open to running.

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