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Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near

05 Décembre 2017

Despite his self-imposed exile, Puigdemont is heading his party's campaign for the December 21 election.

The highly polarized Catalan parliament elections set for December 21 is shaping up as a close fight between Catalans who support secession and those who favor remaining in Spain.

However, six former Cabinet members were ordered to be released, with bail set at 100,000 euros ($118,635).

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont meanwhile attended an extradition hearing on Monday in Belgium.

Whatever decision is made on Monday, two appeals will be possible and a final ruling could well only come only after the vote.

Madrid wants to prosecute Puigdemont and the other jailed separatist leaders for rebellion - which carries a maximum 30-year prison sentence - and sedition for their role in the independence drive, as well as for misusing public funds.

Yesterday, Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont's defence lawyer, argued that the Spanish charges, which carry punishments of decades in prison, are not punishable in Belgium, and so grounds for extradition do not apply.

"We also highlighted the danger for the impediment of their human rights in Spain", Bekaert said.

Puigdemont told the other candidates running for his Together for Catalonia list that the vote should be "the second part" of the referendum that his government held on secession October 1 despite it being banned by Spain's highest court.

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The three parties firmly opposed to independence would get 44.3 percent and gain 59 to 60 seats, the poll suggested.

A government-commissioned poll says that pro-independence parties will lose their slim majority in the Catalan parliament in elections later this month, foreshadowing a complicated route to post-election deals to form a new government.

The CIS said the poll had a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points.

The six were expected to leave jails near Madrid later in the day. It said 3,000 people were quizzed via telephone calls from November 23 to 27. Official campaigning starts Tuesday.

After receiving a request to free the 10 Catalan leaders, Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena decided there was a risk that Junqueras and three others would repeat their alleged offences if released.

Madrid hopes the elections will restore normality to the wealthy northeastern region, which declared independence in vain following the referendum.

"This is a very clear attempt to win these elections without political adversaries", she said.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido was unmoved by the arguments of Mr Junqueras' supporters.

Assemblea Nacional Catalana, the other key grassroots organization in the Catalan independence bid, also decried in a separate statement the custodies of its former president Jordi Sanchez, Catalan ex Vice President Oriol Junqueras, former regional minister of interior Joaquim Forn and Omnium's Cuixart.

Puigdemont and the other separatist leaders claim a mandate for independence from the October 1 referendum, which was boycotted by parties against secession.

Judge refuses to free four Catalan leaders as elections near