In Belgium No Belgian 'crisis' over deposed Catalan leader: PM

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Wednesday denied his government was in "crisis" over the arrival of deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

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Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the presence of deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont in Belgium was a matter for the courts play

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the presence of deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont in Belgium was a matter for the courts

(BELGA/AFP/File)
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Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Wednesday denied his government was in "crisis" over the arrival of deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

His presence in Belgium has sparked tensions between Brussels and Madrid as well as within Michel's coalition government, which includes Dutch-speaking separatists.

"There is a political crisis in Spain and not in Belgium," Michel said, addressing Belgian lawmakers for the first time since Puigdemont arrived with four former ministers on October 30.

Michel added that the Belgian government's "interlocutor" was the central government in Madrid, later eliciting a welcome from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The deposed leader's presence is a "matter for the courts, not for the government," said the Belgian leader from the southern French-speaking region of Wallonia.

"I will watch to make sure there is no interference in the independence of the courts," Michel said. "The Belgian government will ensure the greatest respect of the rule of law."

Belgian judges are reviewing a European arrest warrant filed by Spain on charges of sedition and rebellion against the five Catalans.

The five fled to Belgium after Spain dismissed the Catalan executive and imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region following the declaration of independence by the parliament there last month.

The group surrendered Sunday to the Belgian courts which released them on condition they do not leave Belgium before judges hear Spain's case for their extradition.

They are next due to appear in a Brussels court on 17 November.

Francophone Michel heads a government that includes Dutch-speakers who want independence for their region of northern Flanders and voice sympathy for the Catalan separatists.

Michel renewed calls for a "political dialogue" between the Catalans and the central Spanish government in Madrid in a bid to avoid being drawn into the crisis in Spain.

But he took the line of his colleagues in the 28-nation European Union, whose headquarters are in Brussels and whose leaders support the Madrid government, insisting it is an internal matter for Spain.

"We have an interlocutor, it's the Spanish government, it's Madrid," Michel said.

Rajoy, the Spanish premier, tweeted: "I agree absolutely with PM Charles Michel who is my sole interlocutor in Belgium: we must respect the rule of law and therefore the independence of Belgian and Spanish judges."

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