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#Catalonia parties propose self-exiled former leader as president

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Carles Puigdemont faces uncertainty over his possible investiture as president
Credit
PAU BARRENA  AFP

MADRID-Catalonia's two main separatist parties have agreed to support the re-election of ousted leader Carles Puigdemont as president, in a sign that pro-independence groups are eager to ratchet up the tension with Spain's central government. But the separatists will still struggle to form a coalition government, in large part because eight of their 70 elected lawmakers are either in jail in Madrid or with Puigdemont in Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain.

JpC won 34 seats in the December 21 regional elections, while ERC won 32 with the radical separatists CUP claiming 4 seats to give pro-Catalan independence forces a majority in the 150 seats Catalan Assembly.

Once the Catalan parliament is formed, potential leaders of the regional government will put themselves forward for a vote of confidence, although it could take months for a new government to emerge.

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.

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.

Catalonia's parliamentary speaker said today she would step down as she is investigated for sedition and rebellion over her role in the independence drive, the latest separatist leader to leave their post.

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"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.

The Catalan Parliament's lawyers are set to examine proposals for Mr Puigdemont to read his address via videolink from overseas or have another MP read the speech, according to Spanish media reports.

He is in Belgium, however, and will be arrested if he comes back to Spain on charges of rebellion and sedition.

The parties' announcement Wednesday raises the specter of a renewed push for independence - and also raises hard questions about how, exactly, Puigdemont might go about governing.

Dismissing the suggestion, the leader of the anti-independence Ciutadans (Citizens) party said "a person who is fleeing justice can't be the president".

The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

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