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Karna previously said he believed Puigdemont had returned to Brussels.

German police acting on the warrant issued by Spain stopped Puigdemont on the A7 highway at 11:19 a.m., and he's now in custody, Uwe Keller, the police spokesman, said by phone.

But other separatist leaders like Elsa Artadi, a lawmaker in the Catalan parliament for Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia party, appealed for calm.

Catalonia declared independence, but Madrid stepped in dissolving the regional government and Puigdemont fled to Belgium where he has been living with his family for the past five months.

German deputy state prosecutor Ralph Doepper, who is based in the northern town of Schleswig, told Bloomberg News that a court would decide at a procedural hearing tomorrow whether to keep Puigdemont in custody pending a Spanish extradition request.

In the meantime, Puigdemont was free to make trips to Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, as part of his effort to gain worldwide support for the secessionist movement.

Madrid called a snap election for December previous year in hope of having a more moderate Catalan government to deal with, but its plan backfired when the region voted a majority of pro-independence MPs into parliament, maintaining the status quo. When he arrived, Spanish courts had activated a European arrest warrant, but it was later deactivated.

Catalonia will remain under direct rule by Madrid as long as it fails to form a new government. Llarena ruled that a total of 25 Catalan separatists would be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience.

If Puigdemont returns to Spain, he could face up to 45 years in prison on charges of rebellion and sedition alone.

Turull did not achieve the required absolute majority in an initial vote during an emergency session of parliament called for Thursday evening to beat the detention order. She has since renounced her seat in the Catalan parliament.

"I guess that you've realized that this is over", reads one of the messages.

"All the negative inputs that we have received help us to unite the society even more", Coca said.

Aside from the scenes in Barcelona, the arrest of the fugitive ex-leader of secession-minded Catalonia has sparked mixed reactions in Spain. "It has failed", Citizens leader Ines Arrimadas said. The pro-independence National Catalan Assembly has called on its supporters to march from office of the European Commission to the German Consulate, while pro-Spain supporters will gather at the office of Spain's government representative for Catalonia. Emergency services said 35 people were injured in clashes with police in Barcelona.

Puigdemont had been wanted in Spain since leading a parliamentary session in October past year that saw separatist lawmakers vote for the region of Catalonia to declare independence from Spain.

Judges "will establish on the basis of documents provided by the Kingdom of Spain... if Mr Puigdemont's transfer to the Spanish authorities is legally founded", the court said.

Polls show Catalans are nearly evenly divided on the issue of independence but the vast majority back holding a legal referendum to settle the question.