Catalan parliament postpone re-election of fugitive leader

Catalan separatist MPs who want to re-elect their fugitive ex-president suffered a setback after the regional parliament's house speaker postponed a vote on the issue.

Roger Torrent said a meeting with a view to re-electing Carles Puigdemont would not take place until there are guarantees that Spanish authorities will not interfere.

The decision came after Spain's top court ruled that Mr Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium three months ago and faces arrest if he returns, can only be re-elected if he is physically present at the parliament in Barcelona.

The court also ordered that he must obtain permission to appear at parliament from the judge investigating him over Catalonia's independence bid.

The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by Mr Puigdemont's party, in effect denying the speaker's demands to allow Mr Puigdemont's re-election without legal impediments.

The delay in the re-election leaves the future government of the prosperous region in limbo. The parliament was initially scheduled to have a first investiture vote by Wednesday, but it is now not known when the speaker may call it.

Mr Puigdemont's party, which along with other separatist parties has a slim majority in the chamber, was caught off guard by the suspension.

Mr Torrent said: "I am not going to propose a candidate other than Puigdemont.

"President Puigdemont has all the right to be elected.

"The Spanish government and the Constitutional court aim to violate the rights of millions of Catalans and this we will not accept," he added.

The Spanish government welcomed Mr Torrent's decision. An official said that pressure applied by the government and the country's top court "have prevented a mockery of our democracy".

Mr Puigdemont is one of more than a dozen Catalan political figures facing possible rebellion and sedition charges following the previous parliament's illegal and unsuccessful declaration of independence in October, which brought Spain's worst political crisis in decades to a head.

Spain seized control of the region by sacking Mr Puigdemont and his government and dissolving the parliament following the independence declaration. Madrid said it will keep control until a new government takes office following elections held on December 21.

Dozens of extra police were deployed outside the parliament building and helicopters hovered overhead in a bid to detect Mr Puigdemont if he tried to turn up surreptitiously. Border controls have also been stepped up in recent days.

Several hundred pro-independence supporters rallied near the building, many donning Puigdemont masks.

Earlier, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy urged the Catalan parliament to drop Mr Puigdemont's candidacy and opt for a "clean candidate" who is willing to obey the law and work for the return of normality in Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million inhabitants, which represents a fifth of Spain's GDP.

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