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Catalonia’s new president Pere Aragonés will ask Madrid for a referendum on independence

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By Euronews with Associated Press
Pere Aragones
Pere Aragones   -   Copyright  ALBERTO ESTEVEZ/AFP
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Moderate pro-independence leader Pere Aragonés was on Friday elected Catalonia's regional president by the parliament of the northeastern Spanish region.

Aragonés, 38, promised the pro-independence movement on Thursday that he would demand the region be allowed to hold an independence referendum, which the Spanish government is fiercely opposed to.

He told the regional parliament that he will work to "lead the social and economic reconstruction for the country" and continue "the struggle for amnesty and self-determination."

"On one hand, overcoming COVID and getting the country out of the crisis and on the other advancing towards a Catalan Republic," he said.

Former Catalonia president, Carles Puigdemont, in self-exile in Belgium after he declared the region's independence following a referendum deemed illegal by Madrid in 2017, congratulated Aragonés.

"As I have already told you, I am at your disposal. Long live free Catalonia," he wrote on Twitter.

Aragonés's appointment comes days after his left-wing ERC party reached an initial agreement with fellow separatist party Together for Catalonia, from the centre-right, to form a regional government, ending a three-month stalemate since elections were held.

Divisions had reached a breaking point last week over how to proceed with the push for secession and what influence the new administration should allow Puigdemont, who is now a lawmaker in the European Parliament and a fugitive from Spanish justice.

Although former Spanish health minister and Socialist candidate Salvador Illa won the most votes in the February 14 regional election, separatist parties together had more than half of the ballots. As the second most popular candidate, Aragonès tried but failed to form a government in March.

If unresolved, the political stalemate would have automatically led to a new election.

Spanish government spokeswoman, María Jesús Montero, welcomed the fact another election is no longer on the table and said that central authorities are hoping the upcoming Catalan government “abandons unilateral means” to achieve independence.

“We know where those lead us and that's nothing good,” Montero told Cadena SER radio, in reference to a banned Catalonia independence referendum and failed independence declaration over three years ago that resulted in the ousting and prosecution of the region's separatist leaders.

Roughly 50 per cent of Catalans want to carve out an independent state, while the other half want to remain a part of Spain.