Puigdemont's 100 days of attitude

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By Catherine Hardy  & Ana Lazaro Bosch  with reuters
Puigdemont's 100 days of attitude

100 days have passed since the ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont established what he called a "government in exile" in Brussels.

Puigdemont fled over the Pyrenees on October the 29th, a day after the government in Madrid dissolved self-rule in Catalonia and removed him from office. With him were a group of deposed ministers.

What is the story?

Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest regions. The industrial northeastern dynamo's drive for a split from Spain has led it to clash with the central government in Madrid, as well as the judiciary.

A referendum on secession last October was ruled illegal by the country's Constitutional Court.

Madrid says a declaration of independence runs against Spain's 39-year-old constitution.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired the region's administration after it declared independence.

Five cabinet members, including Puigdemont, then fled to Brussels.

What is the latest on the situation?

Last week, Catalonia postponed the election of a new regional president until further notice.

Speaking in a recorded message from Belgium, posted on social networks, the ousted leader said he was disappointed at the postponed vote and insisted he is the only possible candidate for regional president.

Belgian media is reporting he intends to be sworn in as Catalan president on 18 of February in Brussels. The plan is reportedly that there will be two administrations; one in Brussels and one in Barcelona.

"Puigdemont, Puigdemont, our president!"

Before the vote was postponed, hundreds of pro-independence supporters broke through a police cordon and climbed over a fence to reach the grounds of the regional parliament in Barcelona.

They were chanting "Puigdemont, Puigdemont, our president" and asking "Where are the politicians we voted for?". Many were wearing Puigdemont masks.

The regional parliament's speaker says pro-independence parties will not nominate an alternative candidate. The separatists majority in the regional assembly means Puigdemont would almost certainly win the vote.

Their decision to stick with Puigdemont suggests they will continue to push for secession, giving the national government in Madrid no reason to end the direct control that it imposed to block the drive for independence.

So why doesn't he go back?

Because of several court rulings against him. They have hampered his efforts to return to power since pro-independence parties won a slim majority in a regional election in December.

Last week, the Constitutional Court said he could not be elected unless he was physically present in the parliament, with a judge's permission to attend.

This will be difficult. Puigdemont is likely to be arrested and tried on charges including sedition and rebellion if he returns to Spain. They carry a potential prison sentence running into decades.

Police on Tuesday searched border crossings and the entrance to the parliament itself to ensure the former leader did not return to Barcelona, the Catalan capital.

What has Puigdemont said about this?

That he can lead Catalonia from abroad.

He has ruled out seeking a judge's permission to attend the parliament in person.

However, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, text messages seen by news media last week show Puigdemont thinks he has been "defeated by the Spanish government" and "sacrificed" by his colleagues.

The exiled leader sent the messages to Toni Comm, a senator for the Catalan Republic Left (ERC) who also fled to Brussels with him to escape charges for involvement in last year's unilateral declaration of independence.

Puigdemont has said the publication of the messages is “a violation of privacy.”

What they are saying

"No other candidate is possible," - Carles Puigdemont.

Additional sources • El Pais