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Spain threatens to keep control as Catalan parties support Puigdemont for president

John Thys, AFP | Carles Puigdemont (C) poses for a picture as he holds his first post-election meeting for members of his parliamentary group in Brussels on January 12, 2018.

The central government in Madrid has warned it will maintain direct control over Catalonia if sacked regional leader Carles Puigdemont attempts to govern from Belgium.

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The two largest pro-independence parties in Catalonia announced Wednesday they had agreed to nominate Puigdemont for president, despite his self-imposed exile in Belgium and Madrid’s insistence he cannot rule remotely.

The separatist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party and Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia party reached an accord to support him “as a candidate for president of the Catalonia region”, a joint statement said.

They suggested Puigdemont could be sworn in via video link or by proxy at a meeting of the Catalan Parliament this week, but the Spanish government in Madrid has now vetoed the proposal.

In a speech at his centre-right People’s Party headquarters, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: “It’s absurd that someone aspires to be president of the Catalan regional government as a fugitive in Brussels – it’s a case of common sense.”

While opinion varies, most constitutional experts in Spain agree with Rajoy that Puigdemont would need “to be physically present” in Catalonia in order to take office.

But were he to return he would risk arrest on charges related to his region’s failed independence bid.

Catalan’s parliament is due to sit Wednesday for the first time since it was dissolved by Rajoy following a banned independence referendum in the wealthy region of 7.5 million people.

Madrid last year sacked Catalonia’s parliament and government, suspended its treasured autonomy, and called new regional elections for December which pro-independence parties narrowly won, prolonging the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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