Catalan separatists seek to reelect their leader

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Former Catalan President Artur Mas said on Tuesday he would step down as head of his separatist political party to pave the way for new leaders of Catalonia's independence movement after reports of internal divisions.

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

Catalan independence parties have reached a deal to return Carles Puigdemont to the presidency with a long-distance inauguration from his self-imposed exile in Brussels, either by Skype or through a delegate.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister, called the election hoping that voters in the prosperous region would halt the drive for independence. The move backfired when independence parties across the political spectrum won a narrow majority in the assembly.

However, another issue is that although separatists have a majority, the rules of the Catalan assembly dictate that deputies can not delegate their vote and with Puigdemont in Belgium and Junqueras and other elected deputies either in jail or in exile and in theory unable to vote, that majority effectively vanishes. Insisting that such methods would be illegal, Mr Maillo said anything other than a traditional investiture - in which a president presented himself and his programme to parliament for a vote - would be "a real mockery, first of the Catalans, and then of the rest of the parliamentary groups".

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While Spanish authorities have dropped a bid for a European arrest warrant to deport him, he has previously said he will return to Spain only if it offers certain "guarantees".

Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens), which wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain, said a fugitive from justice could not be lead the region.

Forcadell was a key figure among Catalan leaders who attempted to break away from Spain, a process that culminated with the regional parliament declaring unilateral independence on October 27. 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.

The botched independence declaration prompted Rajoy to use his emergency powers to oust Puigdemont's government and take direct control over Catalonia from Madrid.

Junqueras has asked for release from jail to attend the first meeting of the new Catalan parliament.

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