Spain issues worldwide arrest warrant for ex-Catalan leader

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Madrid:A Spanish judge issued an European Union arrest warrant for Catalonia's deposed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, a day after he failed to appear for questioning over his role in the region's tumultuous independence drive.

National court judge Carmen Lamela has filed a request with the Belgian prosecutor to detain the five and also issued separate worldwide search and arrest warrants to alert Europol in case they flee the country.

"We will study it, and put it in the hands of an investigating judge", prosecutors' spokesman Eric Van Der Sijpt told AP.

The Belgian public prosecutor's office confirmed Saturday that it had received the warrants, saying a decision would happen within 24 hours of them appearing before a judge.

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"We consider ourselves a legitimate government", Puigdemont told Belgian state television RTBF on Friday. The next day, Spain's central government used extraordinary constitutional powers to fire Catalonia's government and dissolve its regional parliament.

In Spain's gravest political crisis since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the snap election after taking control of Catalonia a week ago.

Fueled by questions of cultural identity and economic malaise, secessionist sentiment has skyrocketed to reach roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia, a prosperous region that is proud of its Catalan language spoken along with Spanish.

During the last regional election in September 2015, Puigdemont's conservative PdeCat and the far-left ERC party stood together in a "Together for Yes" coalition.

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One member of the dismissed cabinet, Santi Vila, was released after paying bail of 50,000 euros ($58,300) on Friday.

The separatist majority of Catalonia's Parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on October 27.

The ousted leader reacted to the events at Spain's National Court in Madrid as thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest at the jailings.

"We could offer a new dialogue so that we can fulfil Catalans' aspirations for more autonomy and look into reforming the constitution", Foreign Affairs Minister Alfonso Dastis told French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview.

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