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Spain drops European arrest warrant for deposed Catalan leader

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Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont appears on a screen during an event of his political platform

The withdrawal of the arrest warrant also prevented more than one European jurisdiction overseeing the case, the court said.

The conservative government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked an unprecedented constitutional power to suspend Catalan autonomy and dismiss its leaders.

The early election is an attempt to find a democratic way out of the nation's worst crisis in almost four decades.

Puigdemont and the other separatist leaders claim a mandate for independence from the October 1 referendum, which was boycotted by parties against secession.

The five warrants were issued on November 3 involving charges of "rebellion, sedition, embezzlement of public funds, and disobedience to authority", which are liable to up to 30 years imprisonment in Spain.

But Catalans remain deeply split on independence, and several polls suggest pro-secession parties might struggle to win enough seats to form a new regional government.

Meanwhile, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four allies, who are also up for re-election, appeared in a Brussels court for extradition hearings.

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.

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Its candidates are running on separate lists to Puigdemont's as the two parties compete for hegemony of the separatist bloc.

A government-run poll published on Monday indicated that pro-independence parties would lose their slim majority in the Catalan regional parliament.

The CIS survey said the poll had a margin of error of two percentage points.

Junqueras, who was removed as Catalonia's vice president by the Spanish government along with other top officials, is leading the ERC party's ticket in the December 21 election.

Eight former Catalan officials jailed near Madrid have pledged to give up unilateral independence for the wealthy region in the hope of being freed.

Spain is seeking to have Puigdemont and four of his former ministers who fled with him sent back to face charges over their role in the independence drive.

The four detainees are the former Catalan vice President, Oriol Junqueras, the deposed Home Affairs Minister, Joaquim Forn, and the two civic leaders Jordi Sànchez, of Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, of Òmnium Cultural.

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

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