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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Spain's constitutional court blocks Puigdemont's return to power in Catalonia

The ousted separatist fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October last year — but was last week chosen as a candidate to lead Catalonia again

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is seen here on October 6, 2017, arriving to receive members of the Independent Commission for Mediation, Dialogue and Conciliation at the Catalan government's headquarters in Barcelona. Lluis Gene / AFP
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is seen here on October 6, 2017, arriving to receive members of the Independent Commission for Mediation, Dialogue and Conciliation at the Catalan government's headquarters in Barcelona. Lluis Gene / AFP

Spain's constitutional court has blocked Catalonia's ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action.

The court said on Saturday that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously "to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the [regional] parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation".

Mr Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October last year, was last week chosen as a candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote for a new leader on Tuesday in Barcelona.

But he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

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Read more: Catalan MPs take first steps on path to regain power

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Mr Puigdemont has said he could be sworn in to office remotely via video conference from Brussels, a plan Spain's central government opposes.

He has also said, however, that he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest.

Spain's constitutional court warned members of the Catalan parliament against disobeying the order to suspend Mr Puigdemont's swearing in.

The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Mr Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency.

"The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in," Spain's deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said on Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Mr Puigdemont from returning to power.

After the court's announcement, Mr Puigdemont tweeted that "even the constitutional court has rejected the tricks of Moncloa", referring to the prime minister's official residence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy meanwhile tweeted that "the government would continue to do its duty in respecting the law".

Catalonia's ousted separatist government pushed ahead with an independence referendum on October 1 despite it having been banned by the Constitutional Court.

It won the public vote but Catalonia's independence declaration on October 27 was short-lived as Mr Rajoy moved to stop the crisis in a region deeply divided over secession.

He imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government, including Mr Puigdemont, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.

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