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Spain withdraws European arrest warrant for Puigdemont

Sacked Catalan leader and four former ministers no longer face arrest in Belgium, but could be held in Spain on return.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont

Spain's top court has withdrawn a European arrest warrant for dismissed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers who had escaped to Brussels because they showed intent to return to Spain and participate in upcoming elections.

But Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena said on Tuesday that the five Catalans still face charges in Spain of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement for their roles in staging in a secession referendum in October, which Madrid deemed illegal.

In Spain, the crimes the five are accused of carry sentences of years in prison. The group could still be arrested if they return to Madrid.

Puigdemont had said in November the group travelled to Belgium to avoid violence. 

The court's decision came as people in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, protested to demand the release of other separatist leaders held in Spanish jails.

Meanwhile, campaigning is under way to pick a new regional government, with elections expected to take place on December 21.

Puigdemont will run in the election under the All for Catalonia group. He launched his campaign from Belgium.

Spain's national government in Madrid dissolved the previous Catalan administration following weeks of unrest following the secession vote.

In the October 1 referendum, Catalans voted to secede from Spain, but turnout was reportedly lower than 50 percent.

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