Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's lawyer told said, "I have just received word from my client that indeed it (the warrant) has been issued against the president and four other ministers who are in Belgium."

An arrest warrant would make it virtually impossible for Puigdemont to stand in a snap election in the wealthy region called by the Spanish government for December 21.
An arrest warrant would make it virtually impossible for Puigdemont to stand in a snap election in the wealthy region called by the Spanish government for December 21. (Reuters)

A Spanish judge has issued a European warrant for the arrest of ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, his Belgian lawyer told Flemish television late Thursday.

"I have just received word from my client that indeed it (the warrant) has been issued against the president and four other ministers who are in Belgium," Paul Bekaert told the VRT channel.

"Practically it means that the Spanish judiciary will now send an extradition request to federal prosecutors in Brussels," he said.

The move comes after a Spanish prosecutor had earlier on Thursday asked a judge to issue the international arrest warrant for the former Catalonian and four of his ministers after they failed to appear in a Madrid court for questioning about their efforts to break the region away from Spain.

Puigdemont and his 13-member Cabinet were among those summoned to Spain's National Court. 

Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there. 

TRT World's Amber Austin-Wright reports.

Asked whether Puigdemont would turn himself in, Bekaert said, "Certainly. Or the police will come get him." 

Meanwhile, the same judge, Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela, sent eight former Catalan Cabinet members to jail without bail and ordered another to be held pending a 50,000-euro ($58,300) bail payment.

The ruling was made at the request of prosecutors after the nine were questioned at the National Court in Madrid. Under Spain's legal system, investigating judges can order the detention of suspects while a comprehensive probe, sometimes taking months, determines if charges should be brought.

Also Thursday, six Catalan lawmakers appeared for a parallel session in the Spanish Supreme Court. They were given a week to prepare their defences and instructed to return for questioning on November 9.

In all, 20 regional politicians are being investigated on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement for a declaration of secession the Parliament of Catalonia made on October 27. The crimes are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.

Dismissed Catalan Cabinet members arrive at the national court in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, November 2, 2017. From left to right are Joaquim Forn, Dolors Bassa i Coll, Raul Romeva, Carles Mundo, Meritxell Borras, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull.
Dismissed Catalan Cabinet members arrive at the national court in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, November 2, 2017. From left to right are Joaquim Forn, Dolors Bassa i Coll, Raul Romeva, Carles Mundo, Meritxell Borras, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull. (AP)

"Fuel" to fire

A total of 19 people including Puigdemont, his deputy Oriol Junqueras and the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament had been summoned to be questioned on Thursday.

A hearing of the speaker and five others at the Supreme Court was adjourned until November 9 after their lawyers requested more time to prepare their defence.

But a judge at the National Court pressed ahead with separate proceedings concerning Puigdemont and his fellow former ministers. The judge, Carmen Lamela, was due to make a ruling later on Thursday.

Under Spanish law, rebellion carries a jail sentence of up to 30 years and sedition up to 15 years.

As they arrived at court on Thursday, the Catalan leaders were greeted by cheering supporters but booed by opponents brandishing red-and-yellow Spanish flags.

"You are not alone," a group of around 30 people, mostly Catalan lawmakers, chanted as the former regional ministers ran the gauntlet of a mass of photographers and TV crews.

"The conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish state won't be resolved through courts and violence," said former Catalan president Artur Mas, in Madrid to show his support.

"The more fuel and wood you add to the fire, the bigger it becomes."

Independence drive 

Catalan demands for independence date back centuries but have surged in recent years, in part due to a difficult economic situation that has left many Catalans fuming about their taxes going to Madrid.

Puigdemont's government organised an independence referendum on October 1 despite a court ban.

Spanish police tried and failed to stop it, in some cases firing rubber bullets at people defending polling stations.

A declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament followed last Friday, greeted by celebrations on the streets of Barcelona.

But that same day, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government dismissed the regional government and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous northeastern region.

He also called fresh Catalan elections for December 21.

Puigdemont should have come 

Lawyers for nine former members of the Catalan regional government ordered jailed say the defendants are serene and want the people of Catalonia to stay calm.

Back in Barcelona on Thursday, several hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the regional assembly chanting "freedom" and "Puigdemont is our president".

"(Puigdemont) hasn't fled, it is a political strategy... forcing the EU to take a stand," said protestor Jorde Segu, 68, a retiree. "He's a hero," added secretary Lidia Amoraga, 62.

Puigdemont, 54, explained in a statement from Belgium that some members of his government would go to the National Court "to denounce the drive of Spanish justice to pursue political ideas".

But others, including himself, "will stay in Brussels to decry this political process to the international community". 

It was not clear how coordinated the actions were, however.

Javier Melero, the lawyer of two of the parliamentary members under investigation, said Puigdemont should have turned up.

Source: AFP