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Fugitive Puigdemont abandons bid to return as Catalan leader

© Emmanuel Dunand, AFP | Carles Puigdemont at a press conference in Brussels on December 22, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-03-01

Catalonia's deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said Thursday he had abandoned his bid to return as regional president in an attempt to unblock a political impasse as the region remains without a fully functioning government.

"I will not put myself forward as candidate to be appointed regional president," Puigdemont, who is in self-exile in Belgium and wanted in Spain for his role in the failed secession bid, said in a video posted on social media.

The 55-year-old former journalist called for a new round of talks to take place "as soon as possible" to choose a new candidate, and put forward Jordi Sanchez, the head of the ANC, a hugely influential pro-independence citizens' group.

Sanchez, however, has been in prison for more than four months, charged with sedition over his role in the secession attempt which culminated on October 27 when separatist lawmakers declared independence.

The Spanish government moved in immediately, stripping Catalonia of its prized autonomy, sacking its regional government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections on December 21.

Puigdemont left for Belgium shortly after but still ran in the polls from abroad, leading the separatist bloc to victory as they retained their absolute majority in parliament.

'Won't give up'

As such, he was the separatists' favoured candidate to lead Catalonia again, arguing he could govern the region remotely.

But Spain's Constitutional Court made his appointment conditional on his physical presence in the regional capital Barcelona, with permission from a judge.

At the end of January, the Catalan parliament's speaker -- also a separatist -- postponed a key vote to reappoint him as president.

Since then, separatist parties had been locked in talks as to how to go forward.

Suggestions had started to emerge that Puigdemont could be given a "symbolic" role in Belgium while another candidate would be picked to lead Catalonia from Barcelona.

On Thursday, Catalonia's majority separatist parliament approved a motion defending him as the "legitimate" candidate for the regional presidency -- a move widely seen as a way to encourage him to step aside without losing face.

The motion also stated that the separatists were "favourable to the constitution of Catalonia as an independent state", but stopped short of validating the failed declaration of independence.

In his filmed speech, Puigdemont said he was renouncing his bid to lead Catalonia again so that the region currently under direct Madrid rule could get a new government.

"We won't surrender, we won't give up," he said, adding he would work to bring international attention on the independence cause.

"I know that the path we have ahead is long and fraught with difficulties."

(AP)

Date created : 2018-03-01

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