Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Puigdemont abandons Catalan leader bid


In self-exile in Belgium and wanted in Spain, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Thursday abandoned his bid to return as regional leader in an attempt to unblock the region’s political crisis.

“I will not put myself forward as candidate to be appointed regional president,” Puigdemont said solemnly from Belgium in a video posted on social media, standing in front of Catalan and EU flags.

The 55-year-old called for a new candidate to be chosen “as soon as possible” from Catalonia’s separatist bloc, which won elections in December last year in a region deeply divided over independence.

This could pave the way for Catalonia to get a fully functioning government and regain its autonomy after Madrid took full control of the region over its secession bid in October last year.

Madrid welcomed Puigdemont’s move, with a Spanish government source saying that Catalonia needed “to have a regional president as soon as possible.”

Vowing to continue drawing the global community’s attention to Catalonia’s cause, as separatists accuse Madrid of repression in its crackdown, Puigdemont said his lawyers had taken the case to the UN Human Rights Committee.

He also put forward Jordi Sanchez, president of the Catalan National Assembly, a hugely influential pro-independence citizens’ group, as his preferred choice to lead Catalonia forward.

However, that will likely be difficult, as Sanchez has been in prison for more than four months as he is investigated for sedition, one of four separatists in jail over their role in the independence drive.

Sanchez stands accused of encouraging a major protest in September last year as Spanish police raided the Catalan administration’s economic offices in the run-up to a banned independence referendum on Oct. 1.

Marred by police violence, Catalan authorities said turnout in the vote was about 43 percent, of which 90 percent backed independence, even if Madrid dismissed the referendum.

Weeks later, separatist lawmakers declared independence on Oct. 27.

The Spanish government moved in immediately, stripping Catalonia of its prized autonomy, dismissing its separatist government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections on Dec. 21.

Puigdemont left for Belgium shortly after the declaration and was charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

However, he still ran in the December polls from abroad, leading the separatist bloc to victory as they retained their absolute majority in parliament.

After the regional election, Puigdemont remained the separatists’ favored candidate to lead Catalonia again. He argued that he could govern the region remotely, with the help of super-fast new technologies.

However, the Spanish Constitutional Court made his appointment conditional on his physical presence in the regional capital, Barcelona, with permission from a judge.

Faced with these obstacles, the Catalan parliament’s speaker — also a separatist — postponed a key assembly vote to reappoint Puigdemont as president in January.

Since then, separatist parties have been locked in tense talks on how to move forward.

Suggestions had started to emerge that Puigdemont could be given a “symbolic” role in Belgium while another candidate would be picked to lead Catalonia from Barcelona.

On Thursday, Catalonia’s majority separatist parliament approved a motion defending him as the “legitimate” candidate for the regional presidency — a move widely seen as a way to encourage him to step aside without losing face.

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