Catalonia's cabinet picks are provocation says Spain's ruling party

The unofficial Catalan flag Estelada flies at Sant Jaume square during the investiture of the new Catalan regional President, Quim Torra, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 17, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (REUTERS) - Catalonia's new leader Quim Torra named his cabinet on Saturday (May 19), though the inclusion of politicians who are either in jail awaiting trial or in self-imposed exile was instantly denounced as provocation by Spain's ruling party.

The central government has been at loggerheads with Catalonia since the previous regional government set up an illegal popular vote on secession in October before a unilateral declaration of independence prompted Madrid to take control.

Pro-independence leaders in the wealthy region, which accounts for around a fifth of Spain's total economic output, claim it unfairly pays too much into government coffers and have campaigned for the creation of a new republic.

After pro-independence parties won a slim majority in December's election, and following a number of failed attempts to name a leader who was neither in jail nor abroad, Torra was sworn in on Monday.

Torra, a hard-line supporter of Catalan independence and close ally of former leader Carles Puigdemont who is in Berlin while a decision is made on his extradition, has called on the central government to end direct rule.

The inclusion of Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, both on remand for their part in the drive, and Antoni Comin and Lluis Puig i Gordi, in Brussels and also wanted by the Spanish police, is unlikely to loosen Madrid's reins on the region.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that, once a full and legal government was running in Catalonia, he would return direct rule to Catalonia.

However, government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said on Friday that the inclusion of jailed politicians would be rejected by the courts which had already blocked attempts to name detained or absent nominees for the leadership position.

"The composition of the new (Catalan government) is a clear message that they want to continue with the problems, the conflict and provocation," the ruling People Party's (PP) candidate in Catalonia, Xavier Garcia Albiol, said on Twitter after Torra's announcement.

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