Catalan Leader Freed in Brussels as Court Mulls Spain Demand

(Bloomberg) -- Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was released after less than a day in custody as a court in Brussels considers how to respond to a Spanish demand for his arrest.

Puigdemont and four former members of his government are barred from leaving Belgium without the court’s consent and must comply with all summons made by judicial or police authorities, the Brussels prosecutor’s office said in a statement early Monday. Puigdemont and the other separatists had turned themselves in to police on Sunday morning.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked extraordinary powers last month to reassert his authority over Catalonia and fire Puigdemont and his government. Since then, eight politicians and two activists have been jailed pending trial in Spain, and an arrest warrant is out to bring Puigdemont and his colleagues back from Belgium.

“It had been looking positive for Rajoy as he seemed to be trying to restore order in Catalonia in a restrained way,” said Caroline Gray, a lecturer at Aston University in the U.K. who specializes in nationalist movements. “The jailings have made everything more problematic.”

The Belgian judge’s decision leaves Puigdemont free for now to continue to challenge Rajoy, who called regional elections for Dec. 21 in a bid to draw a line under the secessionist challenge. Puigdemont will appear within 15 days before a court in Brussels, which will decide whether to execute Spain’s Nov. 3 order to hand him over. Including time for possible appeals, the former Catalan leader could extend his stay in Belgium to as long as three months.

An opinion poll published Saturday by La Vanguardia newspaper showed the regional election was too close to call, with projections for a near even split of seats for pro-independence and non-separatist parties.

Activists in Barcelona were left rudderless and divided when Puigdemont bolted following his ejection from power. But the spectacle of the jailed leaders has reinvigorated the movement and thrust the constitutional crisis into the international spotlight.

At its home soccer match Saturday against Seville, FC Barcelona unveiled a giant Catalan flag and banners saying “Justice” to voice its opposition to the jailing of the ousted regional officials.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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