Catalan separatists keep up fight against Spanish government

AP , Thursday 1 Mar 2018

Carles Puigdemont
File Photo:Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and dismissed Catalan ministers Lluis Puig and Clara Ponsati takes part in a meeting with members of the Catalan Parliament, in Brussels, Belgium, February 5, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Separatist parties in Catalonia's regional parliament are continuing to defy the Spanish government, insisting Thursday that fugitive Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont is their legitimate leader despite a ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court that he can't take office.

The three parties also used their majority to approve a motion recognizing a regional independence referendum last October as legally valid, even though the Constitutional Court had ruled it couldn't go ahead.

Though largely symbolic, the developments keep alive Spain's worst political crisis in decades, with the tension between Madrid and the Catalan capital Barcelona showing no sign of easing up.

The confrontation in recent months has led to charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against some separatist leaders and prompted the national government to impose direct rule over Catalonia from Madrid.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a tweet that "the radicalism of some people in Catalonia" is hurting the region's economy and the well-being of families.

The Catalan parliamentary motion stopped short of making Puigdemont president — a move that could have brought legal action by the Constitutional Court.

Puigdemont and four members of his former Cabinet fled to Belgium in October, days after regional separatist lawmakers passed a unilateral and illegal independence declaration.

The former Catalan leader received the most votes among separatist candidates in a regional election late last year called by Spanish authorities as a way out of the crisis. He wants to be reinstated in his old job as Catalonia's leader.

But Spain's top court said in January that Puigdemont must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to form a new government.

The Supreme Court is looking into whether two dozen Catalan separatists should be charged for rebellion and sedition, which can be punished with decades in prison.

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