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Catalan pro-independence parties fail to elect new regional leader

Catalan pro-independence parties have failed for a fourth time to elect a regional leader.

Quim Torra, an independence advocate and picked up by former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont himself to continue the fight with Spain’s central government to achieve self-determination, needed 68 votes to be elected, but obtained only 66.

However, Torra could still be elected in a second round of voting to be held on Monday in which only a simple majority in the 135-seat regional parliament is needed, provided the far-left CUP party can be persuaded not to vote against his candidacy.

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.

Madrid had also fired nearly a dozen civil servants and shut down the network of “embassies” that Catalonia had created to promote independence.

Amid that crackdown, Puigdemont — who unsuccessfully declared independence for Catalonia from Spain in late October — 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 later Germany.

Puigdemont is currently in Berlin, waiting for a German court to decide over an extradition demand from Spain. Madrid accuses him of “rebellion” which can be subject to 30 years in prison.

The German court has refused to extradite Puigdemont over that accusation, but it is considering whether to extradite him on the lesser charge of misuse of public funds.

Catalonia, one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions, is now theoretically under the direct control of the Spanish national government in Madrid. Pro-independence parties won a slim majority after a December 2017 election called by the Spanish government. However, they have since been locked in drawn-out negotiations on forming a government.

If Torra is appointed president and forms a regional government, Madrid will lift the direct rule it imposed when the majority separatist parliament declared independence.

When announcing Torra as his successor on Thursday evening, Puigdemont said he wanted to create “a Republican council that will be able to express itself freely” from abroad, composed of himself and other self-exile allies.

Puigdemont stresses that the situation is “temporary,” implying that Torra may make way for him in the future.