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German prosecutors apply for extradition of former Catalan leader

FILE PHOTO: Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont reacts during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors have formally applied to a higher regional court for the extradition of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on charges linked to his role in the campaign for the Catalonia region’s independence, they said on Friday.

It is now up to the higher regional court in Schleswig-Holstein to decide on the extradition, although it is unclear when any ruling will come.

Puigdemont was arrested in March on a Spanish-issued arrest warrant as he entered Germany, after first leaving Spain for Belgium. Spain sacked the Catalan regional government led by Puigdemont after a declaration of independence that followed a banned secession referendum on Oct. 1.

It has blocked any attempts at independence in the courts, citing the constitution which says Spain is indivisible.

Earlier on Friday, Socialist Pedro Sanchez took over as Spain’s prime minister, succeeding Mariano Rajoy who lost a vote of confidence in parliament.

The new government may seek dialogue but is unlikely to reverse Madrid’s stance toward Puigdemont, whose situation depends on courts rather than politicians.

The German court has released Puigdemont on bail and last month it rejected a further application from prosecutors to put him in custody.

Prosecutors made that request alongside a decision to challenge an earlier ruling rejecting extradition on the charge of rebellion after receiving new information from Spanish authorities including videos showing violence against police.

However, the court has said extradition might be possible on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds.

Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Julien Toyer in Madrid; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Catherine Evans