Spanish court withdraws international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont

The court says Mr Puigdemont has expressed willingness to return to Spain

Spanish court withdraws  international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont

Sacked Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont smiles after a press conference in Brussels, 31-10-2017. Image: Olivier Matthys/AP/Press Association Images

Updated: 12.05

A judge in Spain's Supreme Court has withdrawn the international arrest warrant for deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

The court explained that Mr Puigdemont has expressed willingness to return to Spain, alongside the other four members of his cabinet who fled to Belgium after the independence referendum.

According to a statement from the court, Judge Pablo Llarena said the five wanted to participate in the regional elections, which were launched at midnight on Tuesday.

The statement added the international warrant cannot apply because the crimes are alleged to have been committed as part of a wider group.

The Spanish arrest warrant remains.

Mr Puigdemont has not yet reacted to the news, but his lawyer Paul Bekaert appeared surprised when he heard the news from a reporter.

Despite Mr Puigdemont's position in Belgium, he addressed a political rally in Catalonia via video link for the official campaign launch.

He told supporters to view the election as the second part of the referendum.

He said: "The results of October 1st are still valid.

"There are many of us who don't give the Spanish government the authority to dissolve a legitimate legislature."

The five politicians travelled to Belgium after declaring independence for Catalonia following a referendum in October.

The declaration was considered illegal by the Spanish parliament.

Mr Puigdemont and his four former colleagues face charges including embezzlement, rebellion and sedition, and face decades in prison.

The Supreme Court said withdrawing the warrant would prevent more than one European jurisdiction overseeing the case.

On Monday Mr Puigdemont was told he would have to wait until mid-December for a ruling from Brussels on whether or not to extradite him to Spain to face trial.

The sacked vice president Oriol Junqueras and three other separatist leaders will remain in prison during a probe into their role in the bid for independence.

Judge Llarena said Mr Junqueras would likely repeat his alleged offences of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds if he was released.

Campaigning in the regional elections called by the Spanish government began at midnight on Tuesday, with the elections due to take place on December 21st.

The regional government was dissolved and the national parliament hopes elections will restore normality to Catalonia.