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Axed Catalan leader accepts 'challenge' of snap election

  • 31 Oct 2017

Catalonia's deposed separatist leader Carles Puigdemont said his region's independence drive should "slow down" to avoid unrest as Madrid imposes direct rule on Catalonia.

Puigdemont said he was not trying to escape from justice at a press conference given in Brussels, Belgium. October, 31, 2017 ( Reuters )

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont said on Tuesday he accepted the snap election called by Spain's central government after Madrid took control of the region to block its push for independence.

Puigdemont, speaking at a news conference in Brussels, also said he was not seeking asylum in Belgium after Spain's state prosecutor recommended charges for rebellion and sedition be brought against him. 

He said he would return to Catalonia when given "guarantees" by the Spanish government.

Puigdemont's announcement that he would accept the regional election on December 21 confirmed that the Madrid government had gained the upper hand in the protracted struggle over Catalonia, for now at least.

Resistance to Madrid's imposition of direct control on Catalonia failed to materialise at the start of the week and the secessionist leadership is in disarray.

Spain's Constitutional Court on Tuesday blocked the unilateral declaration of independence made by the regional parliament on Friday, a move that gained no traction and led to its dismissal less than an hour after it was made.

"I ask the Catalan people to prepare for a long road. Democracy will be the foundation of our victory," Puigdemont said.

The Spanish government has said Puigdemont was welcome to take his chances and stand in the December 21 election, called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as a way to resolve the stand off.

The political crisis, Spain's gravest in the four decades since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, was triggered by an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1.

Although it was declared illegal by Spanish courts and less than half Catalonia's eligible voters took part, the pro-secessionist regional government said the vote gave it a mandate for independence.

European nations including Britain, Germany and France have backed Rajoy and rejected an independent Catalan state, although some have called for dialogue between the opposing sides.

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