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Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont walks free after handing himself to Brussels police

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Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont walks free after handing himself to Brussels police
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REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
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Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont — who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium — handed himself to authorities on Friday after a third European arrest warrant was issued by Spain's Supreme Court earlier this week.

He was released without bail.

The former Catalan leader fled to Brussels in 2017 when Madrid forced his resignation from office. He's successfully fought off two other extradition requests from both Belgium and Germany where local judges rejected Spain's argument that he had led a rebellion.

"The judge who took my statement has decided to release me without bail with the possibility of leaving the country under his permission, legalising my residence and being available if summoned by the judicial authorities and obviously enjoying my rights," said Puigdemont upon his release.

The warrant was issued in Spanish but the law requires that it be sent in one of Belgium's three national languages or English.

"Considering the complexity of the file and the two European arrest warrants previously sent against Mr Puigdemont, the case will require a thorough judicial analysis," a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor told Reuters.

Back in Catalonia, separatist protesters and pro-independence trade unions are taking part in a general strike on Friday, following long days of violent protests in the region.

In the past four days, thousands of young protesters have been clashing with the Spanish police after the country's Supreme Court convicted 12 Catalan separatists of illegally promoting independence in a referendum two years ago. Nine were found guilty of sedition and given prison sentences of between nine and 13 years.

Pro-independence leaders went ahead with a 2017 referendum on independence, despite it being deemed illegal by Spanish courts, followed by a declaration that the region was breaking away from Spain. Madrid responded by seizing control of the Catalan administration and putting the ringleaders on trial.

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