Catalan parliament speaker latest separatist to step down

Catalonia's separatist parties will support Carles Puigdemont's re-election as regional head. Virginia Mayo AP

Catalonia's separatist parties will support Carles Puigdemont's re-election as regional head. Virginia Mayo AP

Former Catalan president Artur Mas announced Tuesday he is resigning as head of his regional pro-independence party, saying he wants to clear the way for a new generation of leaders pushing for secession from Spain. But the separatists will still struggle to form a coalition government, in large part because eight of their 70 elected lawmakers are either in jail in Madrid or with Puigdemont in Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain.

The separatists' agreement is the first significant step toward forming a new government in the restive Spanish region following regional elections December 21.

Both parties have confirmed the deal but confusion remains about how the president will read his legally required installation speech to the Catalan Parliament on Wednesday without returning to Catalonia, where he is wanted by Spanish authorities. The move backfired when independence parties across the political spectrum won a narrow majority in the assembly.

However, the anti-independence party that won most votes in a December 21 regional election poured scorn on the plan as Puigdemont remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels and it said he would be a "hologram president". "You can't be president of Catalonia from Brussels by Skype", she said.

Under the agreement between Mr Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya party (Together for Catalonia) and the Catalan Republic Left, the fugitive politician would be installed at a meeting of the parliament next week.

However, if Puigdemont is elected leader it is uncertain how he would govern from Brussels.

"It's evident that for governing Catalonia you have to be in Catalonia, you can't do that via WhatsApp or as a hologram", said Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the anti-independence Ciutadans (Citizens) party.

Many of the Catalan political leaders were arrested on charges of sedition and rebellion after the independence declaration. He also removed Puigdemont and his Cabinet.

Madrid dismissed the regional parliament and called a new election after an illegal referendum in October.

The Catalan Parliament's lawyers are set to examine proposals for Mr Puigdemont to read his address via videolink from overseas or have another MP read the speech, according to Spanish media reports. On Friday, judges from the Spanish Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Esquerra leader, Oriol Junqueras, who has been in jail in Madrid since early November, pending his trial on corruption and sedition charges.

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