Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four members of his deposed cabinet handed themselves in to Belgian federal police on Sunday but were conditionally released by an investigative judge early Monday. The next court hearing will be within 15 days. Belgium has up to 60 days to decide on whether or not it will send the Catalans back to Spain.The decision to release the Catalan politicians came after leaders of the Belgian ruling and opposition parties voiced their opposition to their arrests in Belgium, the country that is labeled as a "safe-haven" to separatists and members of terrorist organizations, namely the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). The release of the Catalan leaders is described as an attempt to stop harming Belgium's controversial understanding of "freedom" for all.Puigdemont denounced Spain as an undemocratic country that "unjustly" jailed his colleagues after he was freed on bail in Belgium.
"Released without bail. Our thoughts are with colleagues unjustly imprisoned by a state that is far from democratic norms," he said on Twitter.
The Belgian judge ruled there was no reason to put the five politicians behind bars and released them on condition they stay in Belgium and attend their court sessions set to proceed within two weeks. Hours after the former Catalan regional president and four ex-ministers turned themselves in to Belgian authorities; Puigdemont's party put him forward as its leader for an upcoming regional election called by the Spanish government - meaning he could end up vocally heading a campaign from Brussels, while he fights a forced return to Spain.The two main parties of government and the leading opposition in Belgium, N-VA (New Flemish Alliance), MR (Reformist Movement) and PS (Socialist Party), have expressed their opposition to the arrests of Catalan politicians.Interior Minister Jan Jambon said, "Madrid has gone too far" with the Catalan question, especially criticizing the events that took place during the Oct. 1 referendum.
Belgian main opposition party leader and former Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said he was against Puigdemont being imprisoned in Belgium.
"I fight against Puigdemont's politics, but I would be very shocked if the Belgian justice system were to put him in prison," he tweeted.
The five Catalan politicians who fled to Belgium after Spanish authorities removed them from office Oct. 28 were taken into custody Sunday on European arrest warrants issued after they failed to show up in Madrid last week for questioning.
In Belgium, even the prosecutor didn't think it was necessary to detain the five after Puigdemont made it amply clear he would fully cooperate with Belgian authorities.
"The request made this afternoon by the Brussels' Prosecutor's Office for the provisional release of all persons sought has been granted by the investigative judge," a statement from the prosecutor's office said.
The office said the whole extradition process could take more than 60 days, well past the Dec. 21 date set for the regional election in Catalonia. Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers left for Belgium last week as the Spanish government, seeking to quash Catalan separatists' escalating steps to secede, applied constitutional authority to take over running the region.The officials said they wanted to make their voices heard in the heart of the European Union and have refused to return to Spain, maintaining they could not get fair trials there.
Nine other deposed Catalan Cabinet members heeded a Spanish judge's summons for questioning in Madrid on Thursday. After questioning, the judge ordered eight of them to jail without bail, while her investigation continues. The ninth spent a night behind bars before posting bail and being released.
200 separatist mayors, anti-independence business figures visit Brussels
Two-hundred Catalonian mayors are scheduled to pay a single day visit to Brussels today to explain the crisis from their perspective, Catalonian media reported after the release of ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. The decision was reportedly made on Friday, when a Spanish judge issued a European Arrest Warrant for Puigdemont and four of his ministers.
The group is part of hundreds of mayors who want an independent Catalonia, and some were also present in Catalan parliament when voting for independence was held. According to Catalunya Radio, more mayors wanted to go to Brussels but there were not enough available flights.
Simultaneously, a delegation of anti-independence Catalan business leaders will also be visiting Brussels on the same day. They will hold a press conference together with some members of European Parliament.
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