Catalan separatist agree to re-elect Puigdemont leader

Artur Mas announces that he leaves the presidency of the PDeCAT

Former Catalan President Steps Down as Leader of Separatist Party

Catalonia's main separatist parties have agreed to re-elect fugitive Carles Puigdemont as president of the region later this month, although how to make that legally possible is still up in the air.

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 17 January, the first step in reinstating the local government after Madrid fired the old regional administration, led by Puigdemont, for illegally declaring independence.

A spokesman for Mr Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party said the separatist politician secured the backing of the left-republican ERC party in Brussels on Tuesday evening.

However, the anti-independence party that won most votes in a December 21 regional election poured scorn on the plan as Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels and it said he would be a "hologram president".

Junts per Catalunya representative Jordi Xucla told Spanish national radio: "The December 21 result gave us the mandate to reflect the majority".

However, if Puigdemont is elected leader it is uncertain how he would govern from Brussels.

He is likely to be detained if he returns to Spain, pending an investigation on charges of sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust.

Ines Arrimadas added: "It's evident that for governing Catalonia you have to be in Catalonia - you can't do that via WhatsApp or as a hologram". Insisting that such methods would be illegal, Mr Maillo said anything other than a traditional investiture - in which a president presented himself and his programme to parliament for a vote - would be "a real mockery, first of the Catalans, and then of the rest of the parliamentary groups".

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister's hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

The Catalan Parliament is set to reconvene next Wednesday, under a timetable set by Rajoy, and is expected to elect a regional leader within two weeks.

The plan may offer a way out of the chaos surrounding the formation of a new Catalan government at a time when many of its senior candidates are either in jail or facing prosecution.

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