Catalonia's ousted leader accepts Dec 21 polls

BRUSSELS/MADRID • Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he accepted the snap election called by Spain's central government after Madrid took control of the region to block its push for independence.

Mr Puigdemont, speaking at a news conference in Brussels yesterday, also said he was not seeking asylum in Belgium after Spain's state prosecutor filed a suit seeking charges including rebellion and sedition to be brought against him. A court now has to decide whether to accept the charges.

He said he would return to Catalonia when given "guarantees" by the Spanish government.

Part of his government will stay in Barcelona, while he presents Catalonia's case to the European Union, he added.

Mr Puigdemont's decision to flee Catalonia has disappointed many of the pro-independence rank-and-file activists who consider it a failure to stand up for the ideas of a newly free nation.

The separatist leader, who had long said he would go to jail for his push for independence, faces up to 30 years in prison for the rebellion.

Mr Puigdemont's announcement that he would accept the regional election on Dec 21 confirmed that the Madrid government had gained the upper hand in the protracted struggle over Catalonia, for now at least.

Resistance to Madrid's imposition of direct control on Catalonia failed to materialise at the start of the week and the secessionist leadership is in disarray.

Spain's Constitutional Court yesterday blocked the unilateral declaration of independence made by the regional Parliament last Friday, a move that gained no traction and led to its dismissal soon after it was made.

"I ask the Catalan people to prepare for a long road. Democracy will be the foundation of our victory," Mr Puigdemont said.

The political crisis, Spain's gravest in the four decades since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, was triggered by an independence referendum in Catalonia on Oct 1. Though it was declared illegal by the Spanish courts and less than half of Catalonia's eligible voters took part, the pro-secessionist regional government said the vote gave it a mandate for independence.

European nations have backed Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and rejected an independent Catalan state.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'Catalonia's ousted leader accepts Dec 21 polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe