Catalan separatists kept in jail as campaigning begins

Catalan members of the Spanish parliament speak to the press outside Estremera prison outside of Madrid on Monday. A judge from Spain's Supreme Court granted bail to six imprisoned former members of the Catalan government while two other politicians

The Supreme Court judge also upheld custody orders without bail for the former regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn, and the leaders of Assemblea Nacional Catalan and Omnium Cultural, two grassroots groups that have been the main drivers of the separatist bid in Catalonia.

He and four allies have refused to return to Spain to face the charges.

The judge kept a Spanish arrest warrant in place however, which means the Catalan leader would be detained immediately upon arrival in Spain.

Mr Puigdemont and his cabinet were unseated in late October and fled the country after regional politicians passed a declaration of independence that Spanish authorities deemed illegal.

"Llarena said he had been moved to act after becoming aware of a discrepancy between Belgian and Spanish law that would limit the charges under which the Catalans could be extradited and therefore be charged on their return."Sources in Brussels believe Puigdemont's lawyer was preparing to argue that the definitions in Belgian law for the crimes of sedition and rebellion are different to those on the Spanish statute books".

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The ruling also coincided with the official opening on Tuesday of the campaign before the December 21 elections for a new regional Parliament in Catalonia.

"Now there is no reason for Puigdemont not to return to Spain, not to put himself in front of the people he wanted to liberate, because he declared independence and went running off", Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a spokesman for the ruling Popular Party in the European Parliament, said.

Along with Puigdemont and his ministers in Brussels, all eight are under investigation for rebellion, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Political parties in Catalonia started campaigning Monday for the early regional election called by the Spanish government in hopes of quashing the region's independence movement and featuring candidates who are either in jail or living overseas to avoid detention. Puigdement is running as the candidate for the Junts Per Catalunya party, despite his exile. But 53-year-old contractor Jose Luis Aguirre said the attempt to unilaterally break away from Spain "is an act that can not be allowed".

Because the Belgian penal code doesn't have an equivalent for a charge of "rebellion", the Spanish court withdrew the worldwide warrants to allow for legal action against Puigdemont, as rebellion is one of the most serious crimes attributed to him. But Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena said Monday that it remains to be seen if Junqueras' pledge was "truthful and real".

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