Spain drops European arrest warrant for deposed Catalan leader

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But Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said Monday that it remains to be seen if Junqueras' pledge was "truthful and real".

Mariano Rajoy's conservative Spanish government disbanded Mr Puigdemont's Cabinet when it took control of Catalonia shortly after separatist regional politicians passed a declaration of independence in late October.

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.

They fled to Belgium a month ago after declaring unilateral independence in a referendum ruled illegal by the Spanish Supreme Court.

The vote is shaping up as a plebiscite between those for and against secession from Spain, with polls predicting a close race between the two camps.

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Spain's Supreme Court said on Tuesday it had withdrawn an global arrest warrant for Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his cabinet members saying the politicians had shown willingness to return to Spain.

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.

Separatist parties have repeatedly accused Madrid of taking "political prisoners" and "repression", and the decision to keep some Catalan leaders in jail is likely to magnify those claims.

Catalans have plenty of local parties to choose from, along with the local branches of the big national parties, and opinion polls suggest that fragmentation will not make securing an absolute majority easy for the separatists.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido was unmoved by the arguments of Mr Junqueras' supporters.

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The CIS survey said the poll had a margin of error of two percentage points. European and global arrest warrants were issued on November 3.

Rovira said the jailing "is a very clear attempt to win these elections without political adversaries".

Separatist groups in Catalonia are calling for protests Monday in front of town halls across the region in response to the decision by a Spanish judge to reject releasing their jailed leaders and other prominent politicians.

However, two other sacked ministers - vice-president Oriol Junqueras and ex-interior minister Joaquim Forn - and leading activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart - will remain locked up.

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

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