Sacked by Spanish authorities, ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has turned himself in to Belgian police after an EU-wide arrest warrant was issued.
Four other cabinet members also turned themselves in at 9.17am local time on Sunday, according to the Belgian prosecutor’s office.
The five are due to appear in court later in the day when an investigative judge will decide whether to detain or release them.
The arrest warrant, which Puigdemont is expected to contest, was issued on Friday. He was wanted by Madrid for “lying” and “disobedience”.
Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from the Brussels prosecutor’s office, said: “[Puigdemont] was saying all along he was going to cooperate with the judicial authorities here. He is now in the hands of police having surrendered himself.
“If [the five] give good grounds for resisting those arrest warrants, the case will go to another court … This process could, under special circumstances, take up to 90 days.”
Puigdemont earlier told Belgian media he did not flee Spain, but travelled to Brussels to avoid violence. “Violence has never been an option for us,” he had said.
Catalonia has been in political upheaval since October 1, when the region held a disputed referendum on independence from Spain.
Poll calls secessionist bid into question
Sunday’s developments came as a poll showed Catalan separatist parties might fall short of an absolute majority in the December 21 regional elections, calling into question the political future of the secessionist bid.
Spain called the vote following the dissolution of the Catalan government for its independence declaration.
Pro-secession parties would win roughly 46 percent of the vote, according to Madrid-based pollster GAD3. This would mean a loss of 1.8 percent since the last regional elections in 2015.
The poll was published on Sunday in La Vanguardia, a Catalan daily.
Secessionist parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in the Catalan parliament. An absolute majority would require 68 seats in the 135-seat body.
For Juan Andres, a laundry shop manager from southern the Spanish city Malaga who has lived in Barcelona for more than 20 years, the projection makes sense.
“The process [the word used for the independence saga] has been tiring. My family and I aren’t political, but we want some stability,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There is something new every day. A new protest, a new arrest, a new declaration. It’s too much,” he said, as he hoped voting for unionist parties could calm things down.
While Puigdemont has reiterated calls for elections, his Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDC) is predicted to come in fourth place. The Republican Left of Catalonia party, headed by Oriol Junqueras, would come first. Junqueras was dismissed as vice president of Catalonia in October.
Pro-union parties, such as the right-wing populist Citizens-Party and the centre-left Socialist Party, would respectively take second and third place.
The dismissed Catalan government said that 90 percent of voters chose independence in the October 1 referendum, although turnout was less than 50 percent.
Following the October 1 referendum, Puigdemont has declared and suspended Catalonia’s independence from Spain and unsuccessfully called for dialogue with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The Catalan parliament has voted to secede and the Spanish government has stripped the breakaway region of its government through the never-before-used Article 155 of the constitution.
There are currently eight former Catalan government ministers being held without bail on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of funds.
Puigdemont and several other ministers who were called to testify in front of the same Spanish judge who sent the eight ministers to prison remain in Brussels.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Madrid, said more protests were planned for Sunday in Spain.
“This time, people will gather in favour and in support of arrested secessionists,” he said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable with a country … that arrests politicians expected to be involved in the December 21 election.”
|A couple wearing Esteladas (Catalan Separatist flag) as capes walk by the street as they leave a protest in support of the members of the dismissed Catalan cabinet [File: Albert Gea/Reuters]|