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Catalan Ex-President, Four Ministers to Appear in Belgian Court

People form a ribbon during a demonstration called by pro-independence associations asking for the release of jailed Catalan activists and leaders at Sant Jaume square in Barcelona, Spain, Nov. 16, 2017.

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet are expected to appear before a Belgian court Friday for a hearing in connection with a European arrest warrant issued by Spain.

The court will hear arguments behind closed doors from prosecutors and lawyers for the Catalan ex-officials, before it considers whether to extradite them to Spain, where they would face charges of rebellion and sedition for their roles in region’s independence drive.

Madrid issued the warrant for Puigdemont and the four ex-ministers after they fled to Brussels last month and ignored a summons to appear before a Spanish judge, claiming they would not get a fair trial.

Spanish authorities had removed Puigdemont and his 13-member Cabinet from office for pushing ahead with secession.

Friday’s court appearance will be the first hearing in what could become a protracted courtroom battle, with both sides expected to appeal the outcome.

The judge is expected to give an initial ruling in eight to 10 days.

Under current Belgian law, a decision on a European arrest warrant should be made within 60 days.

That means that Puigdemont and his associates could still be in Belgium when Catalonia goes to the polls Dec. 21 for an early election ordered by Madrid to “restore normality” in Catalonia, Spain’s northern wealthiest region.