The Latest: Catalan separatist leader remains in Brussels

Markets Associated Press

The latest on the Spain-Catalonia political crisis (all times local):

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11:55 p.m.

A person close to the ousted Catalan government says separatist leader Carles Puigdemont remains in Brussels, where he and fellow fired officials on Tuesday presented their secessionist movement as persecuted underdogs.

Two ousted Catalan Cabinet officials, meanwhile, have arrived at the Barcelona airport, where protesters holding Spanish flags insulted them and shouted "Long live Spain." The source said Puigdemont and some other officials remain in the Belgian capital, where the Catalan leader has said they are seeking "freedom and safety" from the Spanish authorities.

The source insisted on speaking anonymously.

All 14 members of the sacked Catalan Cabinet are facing possible rebellion charges at home for driving a secessionist bid to a full declaration of independence on Oct. 27. A judge has ordered them to appear for questioning on Thursday in Madrid.

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6:50 p.m.

The leader of Belgium's governing Flemish nationalist N-VA party says that he will never turn his back on the ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, even if the government refuses to deal with the separatist leader.

Bart De Wever insisted he did not want to fan the flames surrounding Puigdemont's stay in Belgium, but he said "we will not let our friends down. I will never turn my back on friends, not when they are in trouble."

The N-VA has long had good relations with Catalan separatists but as part of the government it needs to keep a low profile.

The Belgian government, of which the N-VA is the biggest coalition partner, said Tuesday it will keep in contact with the Spanish authorities about the stay of Puigdemont on its territory.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Tuesday that Puigdemont, who arrived in Brussels the previous day, will not be granted any special favors.

Puigdemont insisted during a news conference Tuesday he had no plans to ask for asylum in Belgium and would return once conditions allowed him.

When asked whether Puigdemont would be welcome if he asked for asylum, De Wever told VTM network that "Puigdemont is a friend and friends are always welcome."

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6:45 p.m.

A Spanish judge is summoning the ousted Catalan Cabinet to appear this week in Madrid as part of a rebellion probe for pushing ahead with an independence declaration.

The fired President Carles Puigdemont and five other former members of his Cabinet are in Brussels seeking "freedom and safety," Puigdemont told reporters on Tuesday. He said he would return home if there were "guarantees" of a fair judicial process.

Spain's chief prosecutor is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against Puigdemont, his no. 2 Oriol Junqueras and 12 more members of the ousted Catalan government. Under Spanish law, the crimes can be punished with decades in prison.

Investigating judge Carmen Lamela said the group should appear in the National Court in Madrid on Thursday at 9 a.m. for interrogations that would last through Friday.

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6:25 p.m.

An opinion poll published by Catalonia's official public opinion center indicates that pro-secession sentiment has increased over the tumultuous past month in Spain's northeastern region.

According to the poll, the percentage of Catalans who want the region to become an independent state has risen to 48.7 percent from 41.1 percent in June, while the proportion against independence has fallen to 43.6 percent from 49.4 percent.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 2.69 percent, quizzed 1,500 people from Oct. 16-29. The final days of the polling period included a declaration of impendence by Catalonia's parliament in violation of Spain's Constitution, and the Spanish government's response of firing Catalonia's government and calling region elections for Dec. 21.

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3:55 p.m.

The main grass-roots group pushing for Catalonia's secession from the rest of Spain has given its support to the appearance of the ousted Catalan president and other members of his deposed government in Brussels.

Agusti Alcoberro, the vice president of Catalan National Assembly, said "we think that their presence in Brussels could be very positive as far as it increases international attention to the Catalan cause."

Alcoberro added: "We continue our work in favor of the government of the Republic, which we consider our legitimate government."

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and ousted regional ministers gave a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday. They and the other members of Catalonia's regional government were fired by Spain's central government on Saturday, a day after the regional parliament declared independence in violation of Spain's Constitution.

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3:25 p.m.

The Belgian government says it will keep in contact with the Spanish authorities about the stay of ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on its territory.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Tuesday that Puigdemont, who arrived in Brussels the previous day, will not be granted any special favors.

Michel said in a statement that "the government will have regular diplomatic contacts with Spain regarding the current circumstances."

The government insisted it had not made any effort to encourage Puigdemont to come to Belgium.

Puigdemont insisted during a news conference Tuesday he had no plans to ask for asylum in Belgium and would return once conditions allowed him. He said he was drawn to Brussels not as the capital of Belgium but as the seat of the main European Union institutions.

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3:05 p.m.

Former regional minister for business Santi Vila told La Sexta television that "neither I nor any member of the leadership of my party" was aware of the trip of ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to Brussels.

Vila and Puigdemont belong to the center-right separatist Democratic Party of Catalonia.

Vila was the only member Catalonia's government to resign after Puigdemont rejected calling regional elections last Thursday, a day before the Catalan parliament voted for a declaration of independence from Spain.

Spain responded by firing Catalonia's government, taking direct control of its administrations, dissolving its parliament and calling regional elections for Dec. 21.

Vila said that he will fight to be his party's candidate for regional president, running on a moderate platform.

"Separatism is legitimate, but it must be defended within the law," Vila said. "We have to recover our serenity. We wanted to take Catalonia to the gates of independence, but we have returned it to a period before it had any self-governance."

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3 p.m.

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont still enjoys support from pro-independence advocates in Catalonia, despite the tumultuous recent days which saw him leave the country after a declaration of independence and travel to Belgium.

"I want to say that we are with him. And the sad thing is that in order to be safe, he had to go to Brussels," said Jordi Trillas, a cafe owner in the coastal Catalan town of Vilanova i La Geltru, south of Barcelona.

Trillas said he disagreed with the regional elections called for Dec. 21 by the Spanish government as part of extraordinary constitutional powers to head off the independence bid. "Inside of the (Catalan) republic, the (Spanish government) can't call elections."

Another local resident, Sergio Cabrera, also said he continued to support Puigdemont.

"He followed his line. The issue is to see whether they hear him or not," he said. Asked whether he was disappointed by the Catalan separatist leader's actions, Cabrera was clear. "No, no," he said. "Because if you run the risk of being jailed for 30 years, which is what they want to do," his actions were understandable.

He said he believed the Spanish government would do everything it could to break the back of the Catalan independence movement.

"Before the 21st, all of them are going to be jailed," he said. "They will annihilate their morale, they will demonize them, they're going to say that the trial will start on some date and then it won't."

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2:55 p.m.

Spain's Supreme Court has summoned six ex-members of the dissolved Catalan parliament's governing body this Thursday and Friday to answer questions over possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement in relation to the parliament's declaration of Catalonia's independence last week.

The court said the six, including ex-speaker of the parliament Carme Forcadell, are to be at the court at 9:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) on both days. There were no details on who would be questioned first.

The summonses came shortly after the court Tuesday agreed to investigate the case following a petition by the chief prosecutor. Their case is being heard by the Supreme Court because they enjoy a degree of immunity and could only be tried by this court.

The prosecutor is seeking similar charges before the lower National Court against ousted regional President Carles Puigdemont and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras.

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2:30 p.m.

The Spanish government's top official in Catalonia says the ousted Catalan leader's acceptance of an upcoming regional election is "very positive" because it's a step toward the return to normality in the northeastern region.

"My assessment is very positive," Enric Millo told reporters on Tuesday, minutes after Carles Puigdemont dismissed from Brussels fears that separatists could boycott a ballot that had been called by Spain's central authorities.

"It means the acceptance of the return of the democratic legality," said Millo, adding that the elections will allow Madrid "to return the self-government to Catalans."

The central authorities' direct management of Catalonia under special measures adopted last Friday to derail a push for independence has been so far smooth, the official said, ruling out any boycott by civil servants.

"They are showing that they are public servants that respect the law and democracy, as they should," Millo said.

Officials said that around 150 aides of ousted elected officials in Catalonia have been fired over the past four days.

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1:35 p.m.

Small groups of opposing protesters in the Spain-Catalonia political crisis are demonstrating outside the building where the ousted regional president has just spoken.

The pro-independence protesters waved Catalan "estelada" independence flags while the pro-union protesters held up Spanish national flags. Chants of "Long live Spain" and "Long live Catalonia" rose up from the crowd.

Police are providing security outside the Brussels Press Club, where ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont just spoke, and there were no signs of trouble among the noisy protesters.

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1:35 p.m.

Spain's Constitutional Court says it is suspending the ousted Catalan parliament's recent vote to declare independence from Spain while it studies its legality.

The ruling Tuesday came after Catalan lawmakers opposed to the parliament vote launched an appeal to the court.

The vote, which was boycotted by opposition lawmakers, passed by 70 votes to 10 in the 135-seat Catalan parliament Friday.

Spain's 1978 constitution says the country is "indissoluble." The top court has consistently ruled against any attempt to move toward Catalan secession.

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1:30 p.m.

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont says he would return home "immediately" if a fair judicial process were guaranteed in Spain.

Spain's chief prosecutor has announced he is seeking charges of rebellion, sedition, embezzlement and similar offenses against leaders of the Catalan independence movement including Puigdemont.

Puigdemont traveled to Brussels on Monday. Asked by reporters on Tuesday how long he would stay, he responded: "As long we consider it (necessary). The situation is developing every day. Here we have better guarantees for our rights here and we can meet our obligations from here."

He added: "If they can guarantee to all of us, and to me in particular, a just, independent process, with the separation of powers that we have in the majority of European nations — if they guarantee that, we would return immediately."

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1:10 p.m.

Catalonia's ousted president says that he came to Belgium to act "in freedom and safety" and not to seek asylum. He says he is in Brussels because it is the capital of Europe.

Carles Puigdemont says he and his team will "continue our work despite the limits imposed on us."

Speaking to reporters in Brussels Tuesday, Puigdemont also said that he would accept the challenge of regional elections called for Dec. 21 "with all our strength" and that Catalan nationalists would vote.

Spain wants Catalonia "to abandon our political project, and they won't achieve it," he said.

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1 p.m.

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is calling for avoiding violence and says dialogue is a priority, priority during his first address on Belgian soil.

Puigdemont on Tuesday recapped the issues which led him to leave for Belgium the previous day, but did not immediately say in his statement what he would do in Brussels or whether he would seek asylum. He was to answer questions at a packed conference room close to EU headquarters later.

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12:30 p.m.

Catalonia's ousted president has arrived at a Brussels Press Club for a news conference amid speculation that he will claim asylum in Belgium.

Carles Puigdemont walked into the building past a few protesters with Spanish national flags and one sign that said "Rule of Law."

There has been speculation that Puigdemont may request political asylum in Belgium. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials for declaring independence from Spain.

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12:10 p.m.

Spain's Supreme Court says it will investigate six ex-members of the governing body of the now-dissolved Catalan parliament for possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement following the parliament's declaration of independence last week.

The six include ex-speaker of the parliament Carme Forcadell, one of the leading activists of Catalonia's pro-independence movement for many years.

The ruling Tuesday came a day after Spain's chief prosecutor Jose Manuel Maza announced he was seeking charges.

Rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges carry maximum sentences of 30, 15 and six years in prison.

Maza is also seeking similar charges against ousted regional leader Carles Puigdemont, and his No. 2, Oriol Junqueras

The court said the case would be handled by Judge Pablo Llarena Conde.

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11 a.m.

A European lawmaker has confirmed that ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont will give a news conference at 12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT; 7:30 EDT) at the Brussels Press Club.

Jordi Sole Ferrando, a European Parliament lawmaker and a member of the Catalan Republic Left party which supports Catalonia's independence from Spain, made the announcement in a tweet .

There has been speculation that Puigdemont may request political asylum in Belgium. Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials, including the ex-regional leader.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren't extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.

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10:20 a.m.

Spain's foreign minister says the country's authorities would be surprised if ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont seeks political asylum in Belgium and is granted protection by authorities there.

Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said in an interview with Spanish Cadena SER radio that there is a level of "reciprocal trust" about the rule of law among members of the European Union.

"It would be surprising that he could receive the right to asylum under the current circumstances," Dastis said, adding that the acceptance of an asylum petition "would not be a situation of normality" in relations between the two countries.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren't extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.

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10:10 a.m.

One of Catalonia's main separatist civil society groups says that while it considers that Spain "illegitimately" called an early regional election, it's an opportunity to get a mandate to "ratify the republic."

The Assemblea Nacional Catalan, or ANC, which only recognizes an independent Catalan republic, has made the comments in a statement Tuesday, after its leaders held a meeting late Monday.

The ANC says that elections to be held on Dec. 21 can't be considered to have full democratic guarantees because they were "illegitimately called by the government in Madrid" and because two activists are in jail pending sedition charges, including ANC leader Jordi Sanchez.

But the statement said that grassroots organizations need to prepare a "joint strategy" before the regional election with the goal of "obtaining an uncontested victory that will ratify the Republic."

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9:35 a.m.

European officials say Catalonia's ousted regional president will give a news conference in Brussels as speculation mounts as to whether he will request political asylum in Belgium.

Carles Puigdemont arrived in Brussels on Monday, the same day that Spanish prosecutors announced they were seeking rebellion, sedition and embezzlement charges against deposed Catalan officials, including the ex-regional leader.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that Puigdemont will speak publicly Tuesday in Brussels.

Over the weekend, a Belgian government official said that it wouldn't be "unrealistic" for Puigdemont to request asylum.

Belgium allows asylum requests by citizens of other European Union nations, and in the past, some Basque separatists weren't extradited to Spain while they sought asylum, causing years of friction.