Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont provisionally withdrew his bid for a second term as president, saying his party would propose a pro-secession campaigner, Jordi Sanchez.

Dismissed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech via social media in an undisclosed location on March 1, 2018.
Dismissed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont delivers a speech via social media in an undisclosed location on March 1, 2018. (Reuters)

Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont pulled back from a bid for a second term in office on Thursday, dealing a blow to the Spanish northeastern region's secessionist movement.

Puigdemont became the movement's figurehead in the run-up to a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament in October, after which he and his administration were sacked by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and he fled into self-imposed exile in Brussels.

Announcing he was provisionally withdrawing his candidacy, he said that decision "is founded in one reason only – under current conditions it's the way to get a new government under way."

Puigdemont said his party would propose a pro-secession campaigner, Jordi Sanchez – currently in remand in a Madrid prison on charges of sedition – as an alternative candidate.

Standing in front of the Catalan regional flag and the EU flag in an undisclosed location, Puigdemont spoke in a televised address released on his social media accounts.

Pro-independence parties won a majority in elections that Rajoy called in Catalonia in December, and Puigdemont had campaigned to be re-instated as the region's leader. Supporters had said he could govern remotely.

TRT World's Marah Rayan has more from Barcelona.

Tensions with Madrid

Catalonia has been ruled directly from Madrid for the last four months since Rajoy invoked constitutional powers to take over government in the region.

Puigdemont faces charges of sedition and rebellion in Spain and is likely to be arrested if he returns. Catalan parliamentary legal experts and the Spanish government rejected the notion of him governing from Brussels.

The nomination of Sanchez is likely to be just as fraught with difficulty, given that he is in detention.

Rajoy said on Thursday that a Catalan leader "must be chosen now who is in Spain ...  and who has no problems with the law."

His office added that Catalonia needed a leader "in place as soon as possible who is able to govern and take care of matters of importance to its citizens."

Self-determination right

Lawyers on Thursday lodged a complaint against Spain on Puigdemont's behalf with the UN Human Rights Council, the former leader said on Thursday, for violating the right of self-determination.

Three Catalan independence leaders being held in pre-trial detention have already lodged a complaint against their imprisonment with a UN panel, hoping to exert pressure on Madrid to free them.

Earlier on Thursday, the Catalan parliament had voted to support Puigdemont and reaffirm the validity of the independence referendum in a tense first session following December's election.

The motion, put forward by Puigdemont's party, recognised his legitimacy as leader of Catalonia while stressing the importance of forming an effective government in the region.

However, it gave no clue as to how the region could move forward from a political impasse that has prevented the naming of a leader since the election. 

Source: Reuters