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Belgian Judge Suspends Warrant for Catalonia's Puigdemont

Catalonia's former regional president Carles Puigdemont, center, holds a banner with others during a protest in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 15, 2019.

The arrest warrant targeting Carles Puigdemont has been suspended by Belgian judicial authorities because of the Catalan separatist leader's immunity as a European lawmaker, his lawyer said Thursday.

Paul Bekaert told The Associated Press that the Belgian judge in charge of the case also suspended the warrant issued against former Catalan cabinet member Toni Comin.

The two are wanted in Spain for their role in an illegal 2017 secession bid by the Catalan government and separatist lawmakers. They fled to Belgium after the attempt failed and were elected to the European Parliament in May as representatives of Catalan separatist parties from Spain.

Last month the European Union's top court, the European Court of Justice, overturned a decision preventing Puigdemont and Comin from taking their European Parliament seats. Spain's state prosecutors' office, however, asked a Spanish judge to maintain the international arrest warrants for the pair.

It was still not clear whether Puigdemont and Comin, whose extradition hearing had already been postponed to Feb. 3, will be allowed to take their seats.

"The investigative judge has decided to suspend the procedure of the European warrant following the decision of the European Court of Justice," Bekaert said. "The European Court has ruled they have immunity."

Belgium's federal prosecutor's office did not immediately answer a request for comment.

"Belgian justice recognizes our immunity and decides to suspend the arrest and extradition warrant!" Puigdemont said in a message posted on Twitter. "But now we are still waiting for the release of (Oriol Junqueras), who has the same immunity as us. Spain must act in the same way as Belgium has done and respect the law."

The ECJ ruled Dec. 19 that Junqueras, a former Catalan regional vice president serving a prison sentence in Spain for his role in Catalonia's banned independence referendum, had earned the right to immunity when he was elected as a European lawmaker alongside Puigdemont and Comin.

Junqueras was sentenced in October to 13 years in prison for sedition. Eleven of his associates were found guilty and eight of them also received prison terms.