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Judge In Spain Issues International Arrest Warrant For Catalan President

A banner reading "Freedom to political prisoners" hangs from City Hall in Barcelona as a protester waves a Catalan pro-independence Estelada flag during a demonstration on Friday to protest the detention of Catalan officials.

A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for the president of Catalonia, currently in exile in Belgium after his government declared independence from Madrid.

Catalonia, formerly a semi-autonomous region of Spain, declared independence last week — followed promptly by Spain's dissolving the regional government and declaring direct rule.

The deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, fled to Brussels early this week as Spanish authorities prepared to make arrests in Barcelona.

On Friday, "Puigdemont happened to be giving an interview on Belgian TV when his arrest warrant was issued," Lauren Frayer reports for NPR from Madrid.

"I will not flee justice. I want justice," he said in French.

The Associated Press has more on the warrant:

"The National Court judge filed the request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain Puigdemont and his four aides and issued separate international search and arrest warrants to alert Interpol in case they flee Belgium.

"Puigdemont's Belgian lawyer did not answer calls requesting comment but has said that his client will fight extradition to Spain without seeking political asylum. Belgian federal prosecutors said they had received the arrest warrant and could question Puigdemont in coming days. ...

"Puigdemont and the four others are being sought for five different crimes, including rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in a Spanish investigation into their roles in pushing for secession for  Catalonia."

A Belgian official told the AP that the government is "not in any hurry" to determine their next step.

Frayer notes that other former government officials were jailed on Thursday.

"Nine former Catalan ministers were whisked off to separate jails around Madrid. Only one was released on bail," she says. "They're [awaiting] trial on rebellion charges."

Meanwhile, Frayer reports, "the streets of Barcelona have filled with protesters."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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