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Catalonia's Puigdemont urges Pedro Sanchez to be open to dialogue

Catalonia's Puigdemont urges Pedro Sanchez to be open to dialogue
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont poses during an interview with Reuters in his house in Waterloo, Belgium, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Clement Rossignol -
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CLEMENT ROSSIGNOL(Reuters)
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By Clement Rossignol

WATERLOO, Belgium (Reuters) - Catalonia's former separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday urged Pedro Sanchez, the winner of Spain's parliamentary election last month, to be open to dialogue with the independence movement but declined to say if his party would back him in parliament.

The northeast region's bid to break away from Spain was at the heart of the election, which Sanchez's Socialists won but without enough seats to have a majority on their own.

"I would ask him one thing: opt for the courage of dialogue and not the cowardice of repression," Puigdemont said in an interview with Reuters, when asked what he would ask of Sanchez if he gets enough support to stay in as prime minister.

"He has the rare opportunity to do what no other prime minister has done," said Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since Spanish authorities sought to arrest separatist leaders for organising a banned referendum in October 2017 and briefly declaring independence.

Puigdemont is still his Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party's leading figure. Although he did stand in the Spanish parliamentary election last month, he will run in the upcoming EU vote.

Junts per Catalunya lost one seat in the election and now have seven lawmakers. In total, Catalan separatists have won a record 22 seats in parliament, but their potential influence has been diminished by the Socialists' strong jump in seats.

If Sanchez gets backing from far-left Podemos, which has suggested coalition talks, and from Basque nationalists, he would need the vote, or abstention, of only one other lawmaker to form a government with a parliamentary majority.

Asked if his party could bring him that support, Puigdemont said all would depend on what position Sanchez would take on Catalonia.

"Let's see what speech he makes in parliament when he asks for the confidence of the chamber. He has not contacted our group, it would be interesting to know what his opinion is."

Although his separatist party is right-wing, Puigdemont said that he considered that the best coalition scenario would be that Sanchez' Socialists strike a coalition deal with far-left Podemos. On paper a deal with the centre-right Ciudadanos would be possible, but they have taken a hard line on Catalonia.

A Madrid court ruled on Monday that Puigdemont could run in the European Parliament election on May 26.

(Writing by Belen Carreno and Ingrid Melander; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)

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