Carles Puigdemont, dismissed Catalonian president, walks past a Spanish flag as he arrives for a press conference in Brussels last week. Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A Belgian judge will decide the next chapter in Catalonia's independence bid as the region's ousted President Carles Puigdemont and four ministers surrendered in Brussels and face possible extradition to Spain.
Puigdemont and four Catalonia Regional Government officials voluntarily turned themselves into authorities and were taken into custody to start the extradition process in Brussels on Sunday morning.
A court in Spain issued warrants for their arrest on Friday after the five Catalan politicians failed to show up in Madrid for questioning.
The officials said they wanted to make their voices heard in the heart of the European Union and have refused to return to Spain, alleging they could not get fair trials there.
Puigdemont and the ex-ministers left for Belgium last week when Madrid used unprecedented and controversial constitutional authority to take over governance in the region.
The Spanish central government took the measures with the overwhelming support of the international community.
Belgian Deputy Public Prosecutor Gilles Dejemeppe told the Associated Press that the judge has the option of not detaining them but imposing conditions on their freedom, such as orders to remain in Belgium.
He added the extradition process could take more than 60 days.
Spain has scheduled early regional elections for December 21 to replace the deposed Catalan government officials. Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo has said that any politician can run in the election unless he or she has been convicted of a crime.
Catalonia's parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence on October 27 after a referendum on the question.