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Former Catalan leader says he will stay in Belgium for time being

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is welcomed by supporters gathering on the eve of a Catalan pro-independence giant protest in Brussels Wednesday. (Reuters)
BRUSSELS: Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, facing arrest in Spain for organizing an illegal independence referendum in October, said on Tuesday he would stay in Belgium for the time being.
Spanish authorities dropped an international arrest warrant for him on Monday in order to bring his case solely under Spanish jurisdiction and avoid a lengthy extradition process through the Belgian courts.
“For the moment we will stay here,” Puigdemont said at a press conference in Brussels.
Puigdemont declared the northeastern region of Catalonia an independent republic on Oct. 27, leading Madrid to impose direct rule on the regional government and fire the pro-independence administration.
The resulting political uncertainty has led to thousands of companies moving their legal base from Catalonia and has dented tourist figures and retail sales in the wealthy Mediterranean region.
Puigdemont and four ex-cabinet members traveled to Brussels shortly after he was sacked by the central government. His former No. 2, Oriol Junqueras, is in custody in a Madrid jail while his role in the organization of the referendum is investigated.
Puigdemont faces charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust in Spain.
His party, “Together for Catalonia”, is campaigning on a pro-independence ticket for Dec. 21 elections called by Madrid in an effort to resolve the crisis.
The central government hopes the elections will usher in a new administration that favors unity with Spain.
Puigdemont said he hoped to be able to return to Spain if he was elected a member of the Catalan Parliament, but he was not sure if he would be arrested and put in custody.
“We have to carefully consider such a decision before taking it,” he said.

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