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Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down

12 January 2018

CARLES Puigdemont is set be re-installed as Catalonia's president following a deal between the region's two major separatist parties.

Consequently Puigdemont faces arrest and nearly certain imprisonment if he returns to Spain and as in the case of his former deputy leader, Oriol Junqueras (who has spent over two months in prison), it would be unlikely the Spanish Supreme Court would grant him bail.

The new Catalan parliament will hold its first session on January 17, the first step in reinstating the local government after Madrid fired the old regional administration, led by Puigdemont, for illegally declaring independence.

Pro-independence parties secured a slim majority of seats but failed to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote, meaning there is still no end in sight to the months-long, and increasingly bitter, impasse.

Mr Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium, may either return and risk arrest or be sworn in from overseas.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called an election in Catalonia on 21 December to try to resolve Spain's worst political crisis in decades after Catalan leaders declared independence in October following a banned referendum on secession.

"This new stage requires new leaders, it is necessary to leave open spaces so that certain people can lead this project for the future", Mas told a news conference. He is likely to be arrested if he returns to Spain, where he faces charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

"It's evident that for governing Catalonia you have to be in Catalonia, you can't do that via WhatsApp or as a hologram", said Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the anti-independence Ciutadans (Citizens) party.

Meanwhile, Carme Forcadell, another prominent pro-independence lawmaker re-elected last month, said Thursday she will not seek re-election as the regional parliament's speaker when the chamber sits next week.

The new Catalan parliament will hold its first session on 17 January, the first step in reinstating local government.

The Catalan government used the referendum result to justify a unilateral declaration of independence later that month that prompted the Spanish government to seize control of the region. Puigdemont's party unexpectedly won the most seats among the main separatist parties in December, even though Puigdemont has not made clear whether he plans to return from Belgium. On Friday, judges from the Spanish Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Esquerra leader, Oriol Junqueras, who has been in jail in Madrid since early November, pending his trial on corruption and sedition charges.

Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down