Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near

Bulgaria Catalonia Faces a Crucial Election on December 21

Bulgaria Catalonia Faces a Crucial Election on December 21

These events took place in the aftermath of an independence referendum held in Catalonia on October 1 that the Spanish authorities declared illegal.

Political parties in Catalonia started campaigning at midnight Monday for an election which is shaping up as a close fight between Catalans who support secession and those who favour remaining in Spain.

Voters are choosing regional lawmakers and top government officials to replace the pro-independence officials removed by the national government in late October.

A Belgian judge will decide on Decemebr 14 if Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four councilors, who are living in exile here, are to be extradited.

A Spanish judge has withdrawn the European arrest warrants for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four members of his former cabinet who were fighting extradition from Belgium.

A judge said the ministers still faced possible charges for sedition and rebellion against the state, but had showed a willingness to return to Spain before regional elections on 21 December.

Junqueras, who tops the list for the left-republican ERC party, last week pledged to abandon efforts to seek unilateral independence, alongside other political detainees, in the hope of securing release.

Thousands of Catalan separatists are rallying in town squares across the northeastern Spanish region to protest for the release of the four remaining leaders of the secession movement still in prison.

Yesterday, Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont's defence lawyer, argued that the Spanish charges, which carry punishments of decades in prison, are not punishable in Belgium, and so grounds for extradition do not apply.

Six other Catalan politicians who had been jailed with Junqueras since early November were released late Monday on bail.

The prosecution, as well as those being prosecuted, have the right to appeal the final decision.

It also comes as the official campaign for Catalan elections kicked off, with Puigdemont speaking to supporters in Catalonia on Monday night via video link.

Junqueras, who was removed as Catalonia's vice president by the Spanish government along with other top officials, is leading the ERC party's ticket in the December 21 election.

ERC was part of the former Catalan ruling coalition with Puigdemont's conservative party, but now leads the polls ahead of the new election.

A government-run poll published Monday indicated that pro-independence parties would lose their slim majority in Catalonia's parliament.

The Supreme Court judge also upheld custody orders without bail for the former regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn, and the leaders of Assemblea Nacional Catalan and Omnium Cultural, two grassroots groups that have been the main drivers of the separatist bid. It hopes the polls will restore normality to the region.

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