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Court delays decision on extraditing fugitive Catalan leader

BRUSSELS (AP) — A Belgian court on Monday delayed making a decision for at least two months on whether to extradite former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain . The court in Brussels decided that a new hearing would take place on Feb. 3, once the European Court of Justice has ruled on whether Puigdemont should be granted immunity after being elected as an EU lawmaker.

“It’s now first up to the European court in Luxembourg to clarify all the issues concerning the immunity questions because of the election of the European Parliament,” his lawyer, Simon Bekaert, told reporters after Monday’s hearing.

Puigdemont and a number of his associates fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest over the secessionist push he led and the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government said was illegal.

Puigdemont handed himself in to Belgian justice authorities in October after Spain issued a warrant for his arrest following the sentencing of 12 of his former colleagues. He was elected as an MEP in May but has not been able to take his seat. He has launched a legal challenge at the ECJ to be able to do so, and on Monday Puigdemont said he had faith in European justice.

The judges “must do their work, free of pressures, and decide what they must decide. We will analyze it and see what consequences we can draw,” he told reporters. The “yes” vote won a landslide victory in the Catalan independence referendum, during which hundreds of people were injured in a police crackdown. But those in favor of the northern region remaining part of Spain largely stayed home, and Spain’s central government declared the vote illegal and unconstitutional.

Subsequent regional elections have indicated that Catalonia is evenly split between those in favor and those against independence.

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