Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down

Catalonia's separatist parties will support Carles Puigdemont's re-election as regional head. Virginia Mayo AP

Catalonia's separatist parties will support Carles Puigdemont's re-election as regional head. Virginia Mayo AP

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.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for the Catalan parliament to be formed on January 17. The move backfired when independence parties across the political spectrum won a narrow majority in the assembly.

Mr Puigdemont, of the platform Junts Per Catalunya, and Martina Rovira of the Republican Left (ERC) hammered out the agreement at a dinner on Tuesday night in the Belgian capital, where he fled in November to avoid arrest on sedition and rebellion charges.

"The Dec. 21 result gave us the mandate to reflect the majority", Jordi Xucla, a representative for Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia party, told Spanish national radio Wednesday, according to Reuters. "You can't be president of Catalonia from Brussels by Skype", she said.

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Opposition parties - not to mention the Spanish courts - are likely to contest the legality of the deal, which would become official next week when the new regional parliament convenes.

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

Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens), which wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain, said a fugitive from justice could not be lead the region.

However, another issue is that although separatists have a majority, the rules of the Catalan assembly dictate that deputies can not delegate their vote and with Puigdemont in Belgium and Junqueras and other elected deputies either in jail or in exile and in theory unable to vote, that majority effectively vanishes.

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He said he had taken the decision to make way for new people and to face the judicial cases against him. The Spanish leader has also described as "absurd" the idea that Puigdemont could lead Catalonia from overseas. Spain has jailed other pro-separatist leaders involved in the independence push.

In order to guarantee a separatist majority in a parliamentary vote this month, Junqueras and the other jailed separatists are expected to ask for special permission from Spain's judiciary to travel to Barcelona for one day to cast their votes.

But Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels after he fled to Belgium with four of his cabinet members when Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia and sacked his government following an October 27 declaration of independence.

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