Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont hands himself in to police in Belgium

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Hours after former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and the others turned themselves in to Belgian authorities, Puigdemont's party put him forward as its leader for an upcoming regional election called by the Spanish government — meaning he could end up heading a campaign from Brussels while he fights a forced return to Spain.

The broadcaster says the four deposed cabinet ministers also reported to police.

That delay could give Puigdemont time to participate, albeit from afar and in largely a symbolic capacity, in the snap regional election called by Spain's government for Catalonia on December 21.

The Spanish government does not recognize the move and has chose to impose direct rule on the region, further ordering nine former ministers of Catalonia to be remanded in custody pending trial in connection with the independence initiative.

On Thursday, nine members of Mr Puigdemont's sacked cabinet were ordered by Spain's High Court to be held on remand pending an investigation and potential trial.

Mr Puigdemont has said he would be willing to co-operate with the Belgian judiciary but that he had lost confidence in Spanish justice, which he claimed has become politicised.

The Belgian public prosecutor's office confirmed on Saturday that it had received the warrants, saying a decision would happen within 24 hours of them appearing before a judge. The ninth spent a night behind bars before posting bail and being released. The next day, Spain's central government used extraordinary constitutional powers to fire Catalonia's government, take charge of its administrations, dissolve its regional parliament and call a regional election.

Whether in Brussels or Barcelona, Puigdemont is at the heart of political jockeying for position to start a campaign that promises to be as bitter as it is decisive to Spain's worst institutional crisis in almost four decades. But, he said, the main goals must be to recover the self-rule of the region and the release of the jailed separatists, not another immediate attempt to culminate the independence drive.

Protesters with Catalan flags gathered in Barcelona and other Catalan towns to show their support for the jailed pro-independence politicians.

Prosecutors had asked Investigative Magistrate Carmen Lamela to order the immediate detention of Puigdemont and four of his ex-ministers, who ignored court summonses to appear for questioning on Thursday over their role in an independence referendum.

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