A Spanish judge withdrew a European arrest warrant for Catalonia's exiled pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers on Tuesday.
Supreme Court magistrate Pablo Llarena said that the individual warrants were no longer valid as the alleged crimes were committed as a group and that the politicians under investigation had illustrated their "intention to return to Spain" in order to run for upcoming elections in Catalonia.
The judge kept a Spanish arrest warrant in place however, which means the Catalan leader would be detained immediately upon arrival in Spain.
The surprise decision came just a day after Puigdemont and his allies attended an extradition hearing from their exile in Brussels.
Catalan leaders face rebellion charges
Puigdemont fled to Belgium after declaring his region independent from Spain in a referendum that saw voters in Catalonia vote overwhelmingly to secede from Madrid's control — although the ballot was not sanctioned by Madrid and less than half of the electorate turned out to vote.
The court's decision came as campaigning began for Catalonia's regional elections on December 21, called by Madrid after it dissolved Barcelona's parliament over the "rebellion" of its leaders.
Puidgemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras, another cabinet member and two independence activists have already been jailed in Spain.
Along with Puigdemont and his ministers in Brussels, all eight are under investigation for rebellion, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Speaking via video message to supporters in Barcelona, Puigdemont said the upcoming regional elections meant Catalonia must "choose between nation or submission, they can choose between Catalan institutions or dark characters in Madrid."
es/msh (AP, AFP)