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Former Catalan leader to fight Belgian extradition

Lawyers for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont vowed Tuesday to fight Spain’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium on charges of sedition and misuse of public funds.

Spain, where the Supreme Court this month jailed several of Puigdemont’s allies, has demanded he be sent home to face justice for his part in a banned 2017 referendum.

“We would not understand why the Belgian state would not hand over those fleeing the Spanish judicial system,” Spanish deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

“It would not be acceptable for a democracy like Spain to be refused (the extradition) after the Supreme Court’s ruling,” she added.

The former regional president’s legal team said Belgian prosecutors had advised a court to honour Madrid’s request, in a case that could last several months.

The next hearing has been set for December 16, they said, after the defence asked for more time to respond in writing to the Spanish government’s claims against Puigdemont.

“The Belgian prosecutor agrees with this demand for extradition and of course we will discuss this and we will fight this,” lawyer Paul Bekaert told reporters.

Puigdemont said he had confidence in the “independence and professionalism” of the Belgian court.

Puigdemont served as president of the Catalan region of Spain between January 2016 and October 2017, during which time he helped organise an independence referendum.

He fled Spain after attempting to declare independence on the strength of the result of the banned vote.

His latest arrest warrant was issued by Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena shortly after his court convicted several other Catalan separatist leaders on similar charges.

This month, renewed protests have erupted in the region, with police clashing with Catalan crowds angered by the lengthy prison sentences imposed by the Madrid court.

Courts in Belgium, Germany and Scotland have so far refused to extradite Puigdemont and other senior Catalan politicians sought by Spain for their role in the 2017 crisis.