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Belgian Judge To Decide Whether To Extradite Ex-Catalonia Leader To Spain

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The saga of the ousted separatist government of Spain's Catalan region continues. Deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four other former Catalan officials have been released by a Belgian judge. This comes after a hearing that lasted more than 10 hours. They are wanted by Spain for rebellion and sedition after holding an independence referendum. From Brussels, Teri Schultz reports it could be weeks before they learn whether Belgium will comply with Spain's demand to send them back.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: The decision to release Puigdemont and his four colleagues now has no bearing on whether they'll eventually be sent back to Spain as the government demands. It simply means they won't be in a Belgian prison while they wait to find out their fates. The group voluntarily turned itself in Sunday morning as negotiated with the Belgian prosecutor's office. Even if Belgium decides to comply with the warrant, which is likely, it could take as long as three more months before the five are actually sent back. They can appeal. They can also ask for political asylum on the grounds they can't get a fair trial in Spain with emotions running high over Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence last month. Puigdemont told French-language broadcaster RTBF he came to Belgium because he's lost faith in the Spanish system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLES PUIGDEMONT: (Speaking French).

SCHULTZ: Puigdemont insists coming here wasn't a flight from justice but to justice. He says he's not trying to escape the process. That is, in fact, one of the conditions of his release to remain in Belgium until a decision is made about the warrant. But hosting leaders of the Catalan independence movement brings unwelcome drama for Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who already has his hands full with secessionist sentiments in his own country. Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon belongs to the separatist new Flemish alliance that would like Dutch-speaking Flanders to split from the French-speaking part of Belgium. Jambon says the Spanish government has gone too far in punishing Catalan leaders, which he repeated Sunday night on Dutch-language broadcaster VTM.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAN JAMBON: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHULTZ: "What have they done wrong," Jambon asked. "They were just carrying out a mandate from their constituents." Other expressions of empathy from Flemish separatists are thought to be one of the reasons Puigdemont fled to Belgium in the first place. Jambon is calling on the European Union to get involved. His comments sparked a statement of protest from a Spanish member of the European Parliament. Esteban Gonzalez Pons called Jambon's remarks irresponsible and dangerous for maintaining the necessary cooperation between member states of the EU. Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens, meanwhile, emphasizes the European arrest warrant is purely a judicial matter in which there is no role for politics. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVENS' "EVERYTHING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.