Let me come back, Catalan leader tells Spain

Let me come back, Catalan leader tells Spain
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont attends an interview with Reuters in Brussels, Belgium, December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Saturday called on the Spanish government to allow him to return to Spain in time for the opening session of the Catalan parliament by January 23 so that he can become the region’s next president.

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 currently in a self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Separatist parties secured a parliamentary majority in a regional election on Thursday, though it is still unclear whether Puigdemont and other jailed leaders of the movement will be able to attend the sessions of the assembly.

“I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. I would like to come back right now. It would be a good news for Spain,” Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview.

Asked if he would be back in time for the opening session which has to take place at the latest on January 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 also said.

Puigdemont, who has called for a 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 offer from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy even if this offer was short of independence.

(Reporting by Clement Rossignol; Writing by Julien Toyer; Editing by Ingrid Melander)

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