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Row in Catalonia independence movement as regional vote looms

Catalonia’s independence movement was left divided on Tuesday after its former leaders exchanged barbs ahead of Thursday’s tight regional elections.

Carles Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan regional president who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest following October’s illegal referendum, replied to a thinly veiled attack by his former vice president, Oriol Junqueras, who stayed in Spain and has spent the past six weeks in prison.

“I am in Belgium because we don’t hide, because we are consistent and because the wishes and will of Catalans are a mandate we consider valid,” Mr Puigdemont told the Catalunya Ràdio station on Tuesday in response to provocative comments from Mr Junqueras the previous day.

In an interview recorded by the RAC1 radio station from the Estremera jail near Madrid, Mr Junqueras had said: “I went to prison because I do not hide and I am consistent with my actions.”

The remarks came as campaigning ended before voters go to the polls in elections ordered by the Spanish government, which imposed direct rule on the region and dissolved the Catalan parliament after the October 1 referendum.

Ousted member of Catalan government Raul Romeva speaks to the press amongst other supporters of jailed Catalan leaders outside Estremera Prison

Credit:
 Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/ Getty

Having run on the same pro-independence ticket in the 2015 elections, the two leaders are competing to become the next president of Catalonia, with Mr Puigdemont heading a new platform named Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia).

Mr Junqueras’ Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party is neck and neck in polls with the anti-independence Ciudadanos, with Junts pel Catalunya battling for third place with Catalonia’s branch of the Spanish socialist party.

It is not clear if the group of pro-independence parties will renew the majority that enabled it to declare independence on October 27 before direct rule was imposed by Madrid.

Mr Puigdemont argues that to wish for anyone other than him to be sworn in as leader is to bow down to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy through the use of special powers under Article 155 of Spain’s constitution.

“I will not accept being dismissed by Mr Rajoy”, Mr Puigdemont said, urging Catalans “not to legitimise the decapitation of Catalonia’s government” by voting for “anyone else”.

Susana Barreda, wife of jailed leader of the pro-independent movement Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and candidate for Junts per Catalunya, Jordi Sanchez, arrives to visit him in prison

Credit:
 SERGIO PEREZ/ REUTERS

But Mr Junqueras has said he hopes to be granted bail in order to attend the swearing-in session in the new parliament.

Mr Puigdemont, who faces the same possible charges as his former deputy and 12 other members of the ousted regional government, has suggested he would return from Belgium to take up his mandate even if it led to his being arrested.

As the parties closed their campaigns on Tuesday night, ERC’s leading candidates chose to hold a vigil outside Estremeras prison, where Mr Junqueras now faces an investigation for using his daily five-minute telephone call for a radio interview.

Campaigning for Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party, polling at around five per cent in Catalonia, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, deputy prime minister, said the Spanish leader should be given credit for the fact that the two main pro-independence parties had been “decapitated” with their leaders either in jail or exile. The statement contradicted the government’s previous insistence that Spain’s judiciary had acted independently.

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/19/row-catalonia-independence-movement-regional-vote-looms/

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