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Spanish court orders detention of 8 former Catalan ministers

Posted November 2, 2017 5:48 a.m. EDT
Updated November 2, 2017 12:32 p.m. EDT

— Spain's high court has ordered eight former ministers from Catalonia's dissolved government be detained without bail, as prosecutors sought a Europe-wide arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

Nine ex-ministers turned up to the high court Thursday after being summoned, while Puigdemont and four other ministers failed to show up and are believed to be in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

The ninth minister was granted bail of 50,000 euros ($58,000).

The high court, known as the the Audiencia Nacional, had ordered Puigdemont and the 13 other ministers to appear.

The state prosecutor in Madrid later asked the court to issue national and European arrest warrants for Puigdemont and the four other ministers.

Puigdemont's no-show was the latest act of defiance from the renegade leader, who has caused consternation in Madrid following the referendum and the Catalan parliament's declaration of unilateral independence weeks later.

Puigdemont fled Spain and appeared in Brussels on Monday. On the same day, Spain's state prosecutor announced he was seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against the deposed president and the 13 ex-ministers. The charges follow Catalonia's October 1 independence referendum, ruled illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court.

A spokesperson for Puigdemont said he would remain in Brussels with the other four ministers.

Puigdemont: Charges 'punish ideas'

Prosecutors sought to have all nine ministers who attended the high court session Thursday detained, eight of them without bail.

A separate case against six other Catalan lawmakers was adjourned at the Supreme Court. All six, including parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, showed up to the session.

According to Puigdemont's spokesperson, the nine ministers turned up to court Thursday to make a complaint against the Spanish judicial system's "lack of guarantees" to allow the pursuit of political ideas.

Puigdmeont, who still considers himself Catalonia's rightful leader, denied he was evading justice, claiming that the charges had no legal basis and sought "only to punish ideas."

"We are facing a political trial," his spokesperson said.

Puigdemont's lawyer said he would cooperate with Spanish and Belgian authorities, even though he did not appear before judges Thursday, his Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert told Reuters.

"The climate is not good, it is better to take some distance," he said.

In response, Madrid sacked Puigdemont and his government, and stripped Catalonia of its cherished autonomy.

Puigdemont has denied he traveled to Brussels to seek political asylum. In public remarks on Tuesday, he claimed he was in the Belgian capital to "to act with freedom and safety" and to seek support from Europe in finding a diplomatic solution.