Jailed Catalan separatist Sanchez drops leadership bid


Barcelona (AFP)

Jordi Sanchez, a separatist civic leader in jail over his alleged role in Catalonia's secession drive, has dropped his bid to lead the region, the Catalan parliamentary speaker said Wednesday.

"Faced with the repeated violation of his fundamental rights... the lawmaker Jordi Sanchez sent me a letter announcing he was renouncing his candidacy," Roger Torrent said in a televised statement.

This could ease a months-long political blockage in Catalonia, as it means separatist parties will designate a new candidate for the presidency of the region which has been under direct rule from Madrid since October 27 when lawmakers declared independence.

While separatist parties won subsequent regional elections in December, retaining their absolute majority in parliament, they have still not been able to form a government as their two candidates for the presidency proved problematic.

Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, who was sacked by Madrid after the independence declaration and left for Belgium where he lives in self-exile, was their first candidate to lead the region again.

He faces arrest if he comes back to Spain, and eventually dropped his bid after the Constitutional Court ruled he could not be appointed remotely.

Puigdemont instead proposed Sanchez, the former head of the influential pro-independence ANC civil society group.

But this too proved problematic as Supreme Court judges refused to release him for a parliamentary session that would officially appoint him president.

In his statement, Torrent said he would start a new round of talks with parties in Catalonia to find a new candidate.

One name that has been raised is Jordi Turull, the former Catalan government spokesman who is also under investigation over the secession drive but remains free under bail.

Turull was third on the list of Puigdemont's "Together for Catalonia" list in December elections after the former regional president himself and Sanchez.

But this may also be a challenge, as a Supreme Court judge has summoned Turull and other Catalan separatist leaders under probe on Friday to tell them exactly what they are charged with.

According to a court document seen Wednesday by AFP, the judge will also decide whether or not to remand Turull and the others in custody.

If Turull is placed in custody, it will make his candidacy for the presidency difficult.