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Catalan separatist parties agree regional government deal, new leader

Catalan separatists have struck an eleventh-hour deal to form a regional government that will work towards independence from Spain. The agreement required controversial secessionist leader Artur Mas to step aside.

Katalonien Politiker Artur Mas und Bürgermeister von Gerona Carles Puigdemont

Mas, left, said he was backing Puigdemont, right, as his candidate to take over as president

Carles Puigdemont was chosen to take over from Artur Mas as the Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) alliance's candidate to be regional government leader.

Mas announced the decision on Saturday evening at a press conference that ended months of negotiations, saying he would not stand again as a candidate for the presidency of Catalonia's regional government.

"This is not an easy decision, but it is a coherent decision," Mas told a press conference, adding that he had done what was necessary to save the independence drive.

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#prideandprejudice: Campaigning for independence

Mas, who has presided over the regional government since 2010, said he was backing Puigdemont, mayor of the Catalan region of Girona, as his successor. If no agreement had been reached by midnight on Saturday,

fresh elections would have been called.

"There is an agreement," Jordi Sanchez, president of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly group, which organizes mass demonstrations in favor of secession. "We will have a government and stability. Now (we must) work hard to gain independence."

Infighting reaches impasse

New elections might have led to a setback for the wealthy, 7.5-million-strong northeastern region's push for independence. Riding a wave of secessionist sentiment at the polls in September, Junts pel Si and the more radical, far-left CUP party together won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament. The

Catalan parliament in Barcelona passed a plan

in November for breaking away from Spain.

However, Junts pel Si, which won 62 seats, has

failed to gain the necessary support

from the smaller CUP to form a government. Holding only 10 seats, the CUP refused to give Mas their backing because of austerity measures he implemented and corruption scandals that were linked to his party.

Old wounds fail to heal

The government in Madrid took

legal action against the roadmap,

which led to Spain's Constitutional Court indefinitely suspending the legislation.

The current separatist movement in Catalonia

has its foundations in injustices perpetrated during the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The dictator stripped the region of the powers it had been granted during Spain's 1931-36 Second Republic, and even banned public use of the Catalan language.

After Franco's death in 1975, Catalonia was granted wide self-governance in areas such as health and education. However, in recent years, the push for independence has been given added impetus by Spain's lackluster economy.

rc/gsw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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