January 10, 2018 / 10:47 AM / a year ago

Pro-independence parties to back former Catalan leader as regional head

MADRID, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The two main pro-independence parties in the Spanish region of Catalonia have agreed to back former leader Carles Puigdemont as candidate for regional head, raising the likelihood of a renewed push for a split from Spain this year.

Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) representative Jordi Xucla said on Wednesday that his party and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)(Republican Left of Catalonia) will support Puigdemont’s return to the job in which he spearheaded the independence push.

“The Dec. 21 result gave us the mandate to reflect the majority. The presidential candidate will evidently be Puigdemont,” Xucla told Spanish national radio.

Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Brussels and could be arrested if he returns to Spain. The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a regional election on Dec. 21 to resolve Spain’s worst political crisis in decades after Catalan leaders declared independence in October following a banned referendum on secession.

Pro-independence parties achieved a slim majority of parliamentary seats in the election although they failed to get over 50 percent of the popular vote. The inconclusive results failed to resolve the crisis as it showed Catalans split between backing independence and unity with Spain.

The new Catalan parliament will hold its first session on Jan. 17, the first step in reinstating local government after Madrid fired the old regional administration, led by Puigdemont, for illegally declaring independence.

Once the parliament is formed, potential leaders of the regional government will put themselves forward for a vote of confidence, although it could take months for a new government to emerge.

Many of the Catalan political leaders were arrested on charges of sedition and rebellion after the independence declaration, with three still behind bars pending a trial, while Puigdemont, with four of his cabinet members, fled to Brussels. (Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Sonya Dowsett and Catherine Evans)

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