March 21, 2018 / 2:09 PM / a month ago

Catalan pro-independence parties propose third potential leader

MADRID (Reuters) - Secessionist parties in Catalonia will put forward their third candidate to become the next regional president on Thursday, the speaker of the Catalan parliament said on Wednesday, though it remains unclear whether the latest bid will be successful.

People fly "Esteladas" (Catalan separatist flag) during a demonstration held by pro-independence associations in Barcelona, Spain March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea/Files

The parties seeking a split from Spain will present Jordi Turull, a member of the previous regional administration, for a vote of confidence in the regional parliament on Thursday, the Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent said in a statement.

Catalonia has been in political limbo since December elections called by Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an attempt to derail an independence movement. The plan backfired as parties favouring a split with Spain won the election.

Madrid invoked special powers to take over the regional government after the Catalan administration declared independence in October. The wealthy, populous region has been ruled directly by Madrid ever since.

Former regional head Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Brussels, and Jordi Sanchez, a leader of a prominent grassroots group who is in jail over his role in the illegal campaign to split from Spain, have both withdrawn their bids because they could not attend a swearing-in session.

The latest candidate, Turull, was briefly held in custody on charges of rebellion and sedition after his involvement in the independence push in October. He was released on bail after accepting the central government’s control over the region but still faces the prospect of a trial.

It is not clear whether Turull, who is free to attend parliamentary sessions and to be voted in, would be able to become the next president of the region because the central government has made it clear it would stop any candidate who has taken part to the secessionist drive.

Rajoy sacked the Catalan government and took control in October, hours after the Catalan parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence in a vote boycotted by the opposition and declared illegal by Spanish courts.

“I would recommend them to look forward and pick a clean candidate, who abides by the law,” Rajoy told Spanish lawmakers on Wednesday.

Turull and other secessionist leaders are due to appear before the Supreme Court on Friday for the opening of a new phase in the investigation which leads to a trial.

Reporting by Julien Toyer and Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Paul Day and Hugh Lawson

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