Oriol Junqueras arriving at court today. | Efe

A Spanish prosecutor today (Thursday) asked a judge to issue an international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia, and four of his ministers after they failed to appear in a Madrid court for questioning about their efforts to break the region away from Spain.

Meanwhile, the same judge, investigating magistrate Carmen Lamela, sent eight former Catalan cabinet members to jail without bail and ordered another to be held pending a 50,000 euro bail payment. The ruling was made at the request of prosecutors after the nine were questioned at the National Court in Madrid.

Also, six Catalan lawmakers appeared for a parallel session at the Spanish Supreme Court. They were given a week to prepare their defences and were instructed to return for questioning on 9 November.

In all, 20 regional politicians are being investigated on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. The crimes are punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Spanish law.

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his 13-member cabinet were among those summoned to Spain’s National Court for questioning. Puigdemont surfaced in Belgium on Tuesday with some of his ex-ministers, saying they were seeking "freedom and safety" there. He and four of the officials remain in Brussels.

Puigdemont’s number two, former Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, was the first to arrive at the National Court. He went in accompanied by lawyers, passing by dozens of journalists, and declined to answer questions. The proceedings started with an appearance by the regional government’s former spokesman, Jordi Turull. He was followed by Josep Rull, who handled the region’s territorial affairs.

Javier Melero, a lawyer representing some of the separatist lawmakers investigated in the Supreme Court, criticised Puigdemont and the four ministers who skipped court. He said their actions would be damaging for his clients, three who are members of Puigdemont’s PDeCAT party.

"Not being at the service of the judiciary when you are summoned is always damaging for the rest of those being investigated," Melero said.

About two dozen politicians and elected officials from Catalan separatist parties gathered at the gates of the Supreme Court in a show of support for those under investigation. "If the question is if in Spain you can trust the judicial system, my answer is no," said Artur Mas, Puigdemont's predecessor as president of the Catalan government. "From a personal point of view and also from my personal experience, I don’t think that there are all the guarantees to have a fair trial."

Mas was banned by a Barcelona court from holding public office for two years after he ignored a Constitutional Court ruling and went ahead with a mock vote on Catalonia’s independence in 2014.

Assumpcio Lailla, a former lawmaker with Catalonia’s Democrats party, said she travelled to Madrid to back the subjects of the rebellion probe and to oppose the criminal probe. "This is an unjust situation in which they are being investigated for facilitating democracy," she said. "I don’t understand how Europe can look away from democracy."

Across the street, half a dozen protesters with Spanish flags were stopped by police. They shouted at the Catalan politicians, "cowards" and "to jail, to jail".

In Barcelona, thousands of people rallied outside the regional presidential palace in Sant Jaume Square to show their support for the pro-secession politicians, clapping and chanting slogans in favour of independence.

The protracted political crisis over Catalonia, Spain’s worst in decades, could have an impact on the country’s economic growth, Spain’s central bank warned in a report published today.