Catalonia's Puigdemont says will stay in Belgium 'for now'

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Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said yesterday that he will stay in Belgium "for now" despite Spain dropping European arrest warrants against him and four former ministers. Puigdemont accused Spain of backtracking on the warrants, which are on charges of sedition and rebellion over Catalonia's illegal independence referendum, only because it was "scared of world opinion."

He said that if his party wins elections in Catalonia on December 21 then "we should return" but did not give any further details of whether he would actually go back for the polls, according to AFP.

"When I arrived here, I did not come to Belgium, I came to Brussels the capital of Europe, where we could better defend our rights, and that will not change," Puigdemont told a news conference in Brussels.

"Can we move around the EU without fear? For now we don't have an answer, so for now we will stay here."

In a surprise move on Monday, Spanish Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena withdrew a European arrest warrant as the five "appear to have shown their intention to return to Spain" to take part in the snap regional polls. But Spain has said it will still arrest the separatists if they return.

Madrid had dropped the European warrants "because it is scared", Puigdemont said. "The Spanish state is scared of world opinion," he added.

Attention in the crisis over Catalonia is now turning to the December election, called by Rajoy when Madrid took over control of the autonomous region.

Catalonia's pro-independence parties were seen losing their parliamentary majority in the regional election on Dec. 21, an official poll showed yesterday, as Reuters reported.

Pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya was seen winning 25 to 26 seats, the ERC another 32 and the extreme-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party nine seats, according to the poll carried out by the Sociological Research Centre (CIS).

That would give the pro-independence camp just 67 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, stripping them of their previous slim majority.

The government's People's Party (PP) would win just seven seats while the Socialists would take 21 and the market-friendly Ciudadanos 31 to 32 seats, the poll showed. CatComu-Podem, the Catalan arm of the anti-austerity Podemos party, could win nine seats, according to the survey.

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