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Monday October 14th, 2019 9:29PM

The Latest: Ex-Catalan leader OK with Belgian justice

By The Associated Press
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MADRID (AP) — The Latest on the Spain-Catalonia political crisis (all times local):

6:55 p.m.

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont says he is ready to run for re-election in December and would be prepared to run his campaign from Belgium, where he is in hiding.

Puigdemont told Belgian state broadcaster RTBF on Friday that "I am ready to be a candidate" in the early polls called for Dec. 21.

He added: "We can run a campaign anywhere because we're in a globalized world."

Puigdemont said he wanted the vote "to take place under the best possible conditions. It's not with a government in prison that these elections are going to be neutral, independent, normal."

Spain is expected to issue a European arrest warrant for his extradition from Belgium. Eight former Catalan government members are already in jail and face sentences that could keep them behind bars for up to 30 years.

___

6 p.m.

Belgian state broadcaster RTBF says ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont stands ready to hand himself in to Belgian authorities but not to judicial officials in Spain.

RTBF said Friday that Puigdemont told the station in an interview that he wants to give himself up "to real justice (of Belgium), but not to Spanish justice."

Puigdemont, who is in hiding in Belgium, is facing a likely European arrest warrant to return him to Spain. He says "I did not flee, but it's impossible to properly prepare" his legal defense while in Spain.

He insisted that he was not in Belgium to "Belgianize Catalan politics."

A Spanish judge is deliberating Friday on whether to issue an international arrest warrant for Catalonia's ousted leader a day after she jailed nine former members of the region's separatist government.

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3 p.m.

A Spanish official says that the government respects and obeys decisions taken by judges, after he was asked about the jailing of former Catalan officials in an investigation related to their push for secession.

Government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo says that "what happened yesterday is in the realm of the justice system and beyond the reach of the government." He also said that the separation of powers also means "separation of responsibilities."

Spain's top prosecutor is seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against 20 people, including ousted Catalan Cabinet members and lawmakers who allowed a regional parliamentary vote on Catalonia's independence on Oct. 27.

Supporters say that the eight officials jailed on Thursday without the possibility of bail are "political prisoners," a term that has also been used to describe two separatist activists investigated in connection with preparations for an illegal referendum on independence on Oct. 1.

Mendez de Vigo says that "like in every other European country, the judiciary acts with full independence when the judge thinks that there has been a crime," Mendez de Vigo said.

___

2:50 p.m.

Spanish judges have rejected an appeal to release two Catalan separatist activists who are part of a sedition probe related to the preparations for an illegal independence referendum.

A National Court spokesman says that Assemblea Nacional Catalana president Jordi Sanchez and Omnium Cultural leader Jordi Cuixart will remain in a Madrid jail while the investigation continues.

The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity. He said no other details would be available until the five magistrates release a full ruling outlining their reasons for keeping the pair in custody.

Both ANC and Omnium Cultural have spearheaded the independence movement in Catalonia. Their two leaders are under investigation for allegedly orchestrating protests that hindered the Spanish authorities' efforts to halt the banned Oct. 1 referendum.

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2:30 p.m.

A Catalan ex-regional government minister has been released from a prison near Madrid after spending one night behind bars while being investigated for helping to lead the secession push in northeastern Spain.

Santi Vila left Estremera prison after posting 50,000-euro (about $58,000) bail. On Thursday, a National Court judge sent eight other former members of Catalonia's deposed government to jail without bail and they remain in custody.

He spoke to reporters briefly outside the prison's gate, where he urged Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to find a political solution to the crisis that has reached the courts.

Vila said that "I ask for all political parties across to Spain, appealing to their democratic values, to put an end this terrible situation that has put politicians in prison."

His passport was confiscated and Vila needs to show up in court regularly as the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement probe continues.

Vila, the region's former business chief, resigned in protest a day before Catalonia's parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence. He has said he wants to run as a candidate of the center-right separatist Democratic Party of Catalonia in a Dec. 21 regional election on a moderate platform that would seek secession without violating the law.

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2:15 p.m.

Spain's government says that the upcoming election in Catalonia will be key for the northeastern region's return to stability and economic growth after the deepest Spanish political crises in decades.

Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Cabinet, which is now directly ruling Catalonia after removing the separatist regional government from power, passed a number of decrees Friday to pave the way for the Dec. 21 election.

Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said that a sense of security was needed given the "negative economic consequences" of the recent instability in Catalonia.

Official statistics show that Catalonia has lost the highest number of jobs of Spain's 17 autonomous communities during a tumultuous October. Mendez de Vigo also said that hotel occupancy rates and prices in Catalonia were significantly lower in October compared to a year before.

He said that "elections need to be the tipping point to guarantee security, stability and economic recovery."

___

1:25 p.m.

Lawyers for two pro-independence activists jailed last month are arguing that the pair should be released because the political situation in Catalonia has changed since they first became subjects of a sedition probe.

Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium Cultural, are under investigation for allegedly orchestrating protests that hindered Spain's efforts to halt preparations for a banned independence referendum.

The two grassroots groups have spearheaded the movement to achieve independence for Catalonia.

Sanchez's lawyer, Jordi Pina, told reporters Friday that "political circumstances have changed" since his client was taken into custody. A week ago, Spain's central authorities took over running Catalonia, removed the regional government from office, and called an election for later this year.

A National Court panel of judges is expected to rule on the request in the next few days.

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12:50 p.m.

Spain's Constitutional Court says it won't hear a lawsuit filed by Catalonia's now-defunct government against the extraordinary measures taken by Spain's central government to stifle the region's secession bid.

The court said Friday that it couldn't consider the suit because Catalonia's regional government had filed it "prematurely." The court says the suit was filed before Spain's Senate had voted to activate Article 155 of the Constitution, which gives the central government extra powers to re-establish the rule of law in a region.

The court also ruled to strike down three complementary laws passed by separatist lawmakers in Catalonia's parliament as part of the region's illegal referendum on secession on Oct. 1. The court had already ruled on Oct. 17 that the convocation of the referendum was illegal since only Spain's Parliament can handle questions of national sovereignty and because the Constitution says Spain is "indivisible."

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12:15 p.m.

The jailed former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras says that he considers being behind bars "the price" to pay "for liberty" of Catalonia from the rest of Spain.

In a letter published Friday in the pro-secession Catalan newspaper Ara, Junqueras says that he and another imprisoned ex-members of Catalonia's separatist-led government had expected they would end up in jail. He said he agreed with former foreign affairs chief Raul Romeva that "if the price to pay for liberty is prison, we will pay that price."

Junqueras described Spain's crackdown to thwart a declaration of independence by Catalonia's regional parliament which included the jailing of him and eight other fired government officials on Thursday an attempt to "put us on our knees."

Junqueras also urged pro-secession parties to run separately in a regional election on Dec. 21 called by Spain's government as part of extraordinary measures given to it by the Senate to stop the secession drive. That would mean his Republic Left party wouldn't maintain its current coalition with the center-right Democratic Part of Catalonia. The Republic Left leads polls for the upcoming ballot.

Junqueras, as former chief of economic affairs for Catalonia, has been criticized for not foreseeing the flood of companies who have relocated the headquarters outside Catalonia in recent weeks because of the uncertainty produced by the secession drive that would take the region out of the European Union. He argues they left due to political pressure from the Spanish government, a claim that hasn't been backed up by business leaders.

___

10:50 a.m.

A Spanish court official says that Catalan ex-regional minister Santi Vila has posted bail of 50,000 euros (about ($58,000) and that a judge has ordered his release from a prison outside Madrid.

Vila, who spent a night in prison, was the only former member of Catalonia's regional government to have had bail set for him Thursday. A National Court official, speaking under customary rules of anonymity, said that Vila is expected to be released soon.

Another eight former officials were denied bail as part of an investigation into the regional government's attempt to provoke the secession of Catalonia from the rest of Spain.

Vila, the former regional minister for business, resigned in protest a day before Catalonia's parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on Oct. 27.

A person close to Vila also confirmed to The Associated Press that Vila deposited the bail money with the court. The source spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Judge Carmen Lamela ordered Vila's passport to be confiscated and he will be required to show up in court every two weeks. Vila is still being investigated in the rebellion, sedition and embezzlement case along with his former fellow Cabinet members.

--By Aritz Parra in Madrid and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona.

___

9:30 a.m.

Catalonia has lost the highest number of jobs of Spain's 17 autonomous communities during the tumultuous past month, according to monthly statistics issued by Spain's Ministry of Employment and Social Security.

The northeastern region has lost nearly 15,000 jobs in an October marked by clashes between Catalonia's separatist leaders and central authorities over secession.

The political uncertainty has led to more than 1,000 companies relocating their headquarters to other parts of Spain for fears of being left outside the European Union's common market in the case of an independent Catalonia.

Overall, Spain's unemployment rolls increased by 58,000 people during October.

Spain has 3.4 million workers without work, which is still at its lowest level in its last eight years.

___

9:15 a.m.

A Spanish judge is deliberating on whether to issue an international arrest warrant for Catalonia's ousted leader after she jailed nine former members of the region's separatist government a day earlier.

Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont flew to Brussels this week after Spanish authorities removed him and his 13-member Cabinet from office for pushing ahead with secession.

If an arrest warrant is issued, Puigdemont will fight extradition without seeking political asylum, according to his Belgian lawyer.

Puigdemont was due to appear at Spain's National Court on Thursday to answer questions in a rebellion case brought by Spanish prosecutors, but he didn't show up.

The court will also consider an appeal to release two separatist activists who were jailed last month in a sedition investigation.

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