BRUSSELS • Catalonia's separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has called on Spain's government to allow him to return home in time for the opening session of the Catalan Parliament so that he can become the region's next president.
Mr Puigdemont, who ruled in Catalonia until October and faces arrest in Spain for his role in organising an illegal referendum on independence and proclaiming a Catalan republic, is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
Separatist parties secured a parliamentary majority in regional polls last Thursday, but it is not clear if Mr Puigdemont and other jailed leaders of the movement will be able to attend assembly sessions.
"I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. I would like to come back right now. It would be good news for Spain," Mr Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview last Saturday.
Asked if he would be back in time for the opening session of Parliament, which has to take place at the latest on Jan 23, he said: "It would be natural. If I am not allowed to be sworn in as president, it would be a major abnormality for the Spanish democratic system."
"I am the president of the regional government and I will remain the president if the Spanish state respects the results of the vote," he added.
Mr Puigdemont, who has called for dialogue with the Spanish government to resolve the current tensions between the turbulent region and the authorities in Madrid, said he was ready to listen to any proposal from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy even if this offer fell short of an offer of independence.
SENSE OF URGENCY
I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. I would like to come back right now. It would be good news for Spain.
MR CARLES PUIGDEMONT, Catalonia's separatist leader.
"If the Spanish state has a proposal for Catalonia, we should listen," Mr Puigdemont said, asking for a dialogue of equals.
Mr Rajoy last Friday said he was open to dialogue but implicitly rejected Mr Puigdemont's demand to meet soon, saying he would talk with whoever was Catalonia's president only once they have been elected by the new regional Parliament.
Before that, his first interlocutor should be Ms Ines Arrimadas, whose centrist, anti-independence party scored the most votes on Thursday, he said. She does not have enough seats or allies to form a government, while separatist parties have put together have a narrow majority.
Past calls for dialogue from both the separatists and unionists have failed to yield concrete results and the crisis is likely to keep haunting Madrid, as well as European Union leaders, for a long time.
Negotiations to form a government in Catalonia are likely to open after Jan 6, following the holiday break. Parliament must vote by Feb 8 on putting a new government into place.
After last Thursday's divisive regional elections, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Mr Puigdemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial.
Meanwhile, when asked if Mr Puigdemont was inclined to return, Mr Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, one of his lawyers in Catalonia, told Catalunya Radio: "In principle yes, but my advice is to evaluate the situation because the moment he comes back here he would be arrested.
"We must assess if it is worth it, if he can do more inside than outside - obviously if he returns and is imprisoned, that would create... a very significant political conflict."
"We are studying all the scenarios," Mr Puigdemont's campaign manager Elsa Artadi told Rac1 radio on Saturday.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE