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Catalan separatists again back fugitive leader for president

Separatists in Spain’s Catalonia region say they will re-nominate self-professed, fugitive leader Carles Puigdemont to head their regional government, a move that would be unacceptable to Madrid.

In October 2017, Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders held a referendum that had been banned by Spain’s central government and declared illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court. Organizers said 90 percent of voters backed secession. Before and during the referendum, Spanish police attempted to prevent the voting and arrested a number of secessionist leaders.

Amid that crackdown, Puigdemont — who unsuccessfully declared independence for Catalonia from Spain late that same month — and four of his ministers fled to Belgium, where authorities refused to extradite the fugitive leaders despite a European arrest warrant. Puigdemont then traveled to Denmark and then Germany. A second warrant has been issued by Madrid to have them extradited. Berlin is considering that request.

Meeting in Berlin on Saturday, pro-independence Catalan politicians vowed to attempt once again to get their former leader reinstalled as president of the Spanish region by May 14 and said they had no intention of holding fresh elections.

“We want to vote on the investiture of @KRLS (Puigdemont), a legitimate president, the one who emerges from the polls with the mandate… before May 14,” Eduard Pujol, a spokesman for the secessionist Junts per Catalunya Party in the regional parliament, said in a tweet.

The announcement came as Catalan separatists were expected to propose a new candidate who would have been acceptable to the government in Madrid.

Pujol added that the secessionists remained loyal to Puigdemont despite previous failed efforts to install him as president.

Catalan lawmakers have until May 22 to form a government; and if they fail to do so, a new election must be held.

This will be the fifth attempt to install a new regional president since the Spanish government imposed direct rule on resource-rich Catalonia. Madrid has already said it will contest a newly-passed legislation that allows members to vote for an absent leader.

Madrid wants Puigdemont, along with the four other former officials, on charges of sedition and rebellion.

A court has normally 60 days to rule on extradition based on the new European arrest warrant.

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