Catalonia's parliamentary speaker has postponed a vote on Carles Puigdemont's re-election, prompting anger from allies of the fugitive former president. Supporters scuffled with police in front of the parliament.
Catalonia's parliamentary speaker, Roger Torrent, postponed Tuesday's vote that would have authorized regional separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to form a government.
The move seems to have exposed a divide within Catalonia's pro-independence block, specifically between Torrent's ERC and Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia party.
Torrent's decision to postpone was welcomed in Madrid. Spain's Supreme Court had ruled that Puigdemont, who faces arrest in Spain, would first have to return from self-imposed exile in Belgium and request a judge's permission to attend the session.
Torrent refuses to pick another candidate
Though seemingly going along with Madrid's requests, Torrent verbally backed Puigdemont and said the exiled politician had "every right to be elected." He also lashed out against authorities in Madrid.
"The Spanish government and the Constitutional Court are trying to violate the rights of thousands of Catalans who went to the polls on December 21, and we won't allow that," he said.
Torrent did not give a new date for the vote, saying only that the session would reconvene as soon as Spanish authorities guarantee that they "won't interfere" in Puigdemont's re-election. He also refused to compromise with the central government by proposing a different candidate.
'We will be here all afternoon'
Puigdemont's allies in the chamber seemed to have been caught off guard by Torrent's move on Tuesday. Both Together for Catalonia and the smaller CUP party protested the delay, with Puigdemont's supporters scuffling with police in front of the parliament.
Together for Catalonia had sought to hold the plenary session on Tuesday. "We're here," spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said. "We will be here all afternoon. We will be here as long as is necessary. There are people in the streets. We have the votes."
Later on Tuesday, Puigdemont himself called for unity in a video posted on social media. He added that he was the only viable option for regional leader.
"There is no other possible candidate, no other combination arithmetically possible" in the regional parliament, where separatists hold a majority of the seats, he said in a video posted on social media.
The protesters left the area peacefully by nightfall. Puigdemont fears that he might end up in jail if he returns to Barcelona, given the standing warrant for his arrest.
Rajoy urges Catalan parliament to be 'sensible'
Earlier on Tuesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged the Catalan regional parliament to make "the most sensible decision" by halting Puigdemont's re-election. Speaking on national television, Rajoy warned Torrent of legal consequences if he elected Puigdemont in absentia.
Catalan separatists have defended Puigdemont's democratic mandate to rule after December's snap elections, which were instigated by Madrid, gave the pro-independence parties an absolute majority of 70 seats in the 135-seat parliament.
dj,dm/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)