Catalonia picks a fugitive president in new bid to break up with Spain

The announcement came as Spanish prosecutors sought to reactivate a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont.
January 22, 2018, 12:15pm

Catalonia’s pro-independence parliament nominated fugitive former leader Carles Puigdemont – who faces arrest as soon as he sets foot on Spanish soil – as its sole candidate for president Monday, breathing fresh life into Spain’s constitutional crisis.

The announcement came as Spanish prosecutors sought to reactivate a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont, after the secessionist leader left the sanctuary of Belgium, where he has lived in self-imposed exile for the past three months, for the first time. But Spain’s Supreme Court rejected the request.

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The Catalan parliament’s move is a blow to Madrid’s efforts to defuse the crisis over the region’s independence aspirations.

Madrid sacked the regional parliament in October after it held an illegal referendum and unilaterally declared independence, a movement that’s been building for several years. But separatists won a majority in fresh regional elections that were held last month, and have shown no appetite to abandon their bid to break away.

“I confirm that the only candidate that has been proposed is Mr. Carles Puigdemont,” Roger Torrent, the Catalan parliament’s recently-elected separatist speaker, said Monday.

“I am conscious of the warnings that weigh upon him, but I am also conscious of his absolute legitimacy to be candidate.” He called for talks with Madrid to find a solution.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October after he was sacked by Madrid for spearheading the drive for independence. Facing charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds, he faces immediate arrest if he returns to Spain and a potential prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Puigdemont and his supporters have claimed that with modern communications technology, he could perform the role of president from outside Spain. But Spain’s government has ruled this out, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy saying on Saturday that it would be illegal for him to do so.

Catalan’s Parliament will vote on Puigdemont’s candidacy at the end of the month. The former Catalan leader is due to speak at a debate in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the Catalan issue Monday.

Cover: Catalonia's deposed president Carles Puigdemont addresses his audience via a live video feed from Brussels at a meeting of Junts Per Catalunya party ahead of the Catalan Parliament election on Dec. 16, 2017, in Barcelona. (Photo by Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images)