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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Catalan MPs take first steps on path to regain power

As the separatists regroup, tensions between Catalan and Madrid rise

A screen shows former Catalonia regional government president and chairman of the Catalan nationalist party, Artur Mas (L), and former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont (R).  EPA-EFE/QUIQUE GARCIA
A screen shows former Catalonia regional government president and chairman of the Catalan nationalist party, Artur Mas (L), and former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont (R). EPA-EFE/QUIQUE GARCIA

Catalonia's parliament has met for the first time since the region's failed attempt to gain independence from Spain.

On Wednesday, Catalan MPs elected a pro-independence speaker, Roger Torrent, in what is the first step to reinstating local government.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont tweeted his congratulations to the new speaker.

"I am sure you will exercise the post with nobility and bravery, protecting institutions and the country," he said.

There has been a clear show of support from many Catalan MPs for Mr Puigdemont to return to his former post as president.

The Catalan parliament in Barcelona has been standing empty for almost 90 days, last filled with celebrating separatists who had just illegally declared their independence from Spain in October.

In response, Mr Rajoy took direct control of the region, sacking its leaders and dissolving its parliament.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has been in self-imposed exile in Belgium ever since. He fled hours before Spain’s attorney general asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against him and some of his cabinet over their decision to declare independence.

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He risks arrest if he returns to Spain and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has also threatened to refuse to restore Catalonia's autonomous powers if the regional parliament permits Mr Puigdemont to lead the government from exile.

Nicknamed the ‘hologram president’, Mr Puigdemont's team believe he could rule via Skype, Facebook and social media if need be, citing the success of US president Donald Trump’s use of social media to disseminate his message.

Mr Rajoy has called this absurd and the Catalan parliament's own legal experts have ruled that any president must be physically present in the parliamentary building.

The region's three separatist parties are set to govern again, after they won 72 out of 135 available seats in the snap elections called in December. This qualifies them to govern as a coalition if they choose to establish one.

Mr Torrent is a member of the left-wing separatist ERC party, whose leader, Oriol Junqueras, is among three Catalan MPs in prison awaiting trial over the declaration of independence. The MPs were allowed to vote to select a parliamentary speaker via proxies.

Five others in self-imposed exile in Belgium, who were ‘represented’ in parliament by large yellow ribbons on their seats, did not assign proxies.

The MPs will select a board who will decide who gets the first shot at forming a government. The selection of a new president is expected to take place on January 31.

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