The newly elected Catalan parliament has met after a failed attempt at secession from Spain last year. The question remains whether sacked leader Carles Puigdemont will be allowed to present himself for re-election.
The new Catalan parliament convened for the first time on Wednesday following last month's elections. Questions about the region's future loomed large as several imprisoned lawmakers were unable to attend the session.
Yellow ribbons symbolizing a protest against Spain's judicial probe over last year's failed secession attempt were placed on the empty seats of absent independence lawmakers.
Making way for the leader
Pro-independence parties won a slim majority in the 135-seat assembly during the December elections and used their majority to elect a separatist as parliamentary speaker. Left-wing ERC party member Roger Torrent was elected in a 65-56 vote.
"I want democracy and coexistence to be the foundations of this term," said Torrent, who was elected to head the assembly's governing committee, which plays an instrumental role in deciding who leads the regional government.
Secessionist lawmakers have a clear majority in the committee, with four of its seven members hailing from pro-independence parties. It may be able to interpret parliamentary rules to allow Puigdemont to rule from his self-imposed exile in Brussels.
Puigdemont has suggested he could govern Catalonia via video conference, including using an app called Skype. The idea has been dismissed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Catalan parliament's lawyers.
Catalonia's former leader on Wednesday harshly criticized Spanish authorities on Twitter as the regional parliament convened. "We will show them that there is nothing that can bend the spirit of free people," he wrote while tweeting a video that showed a police crackdown on voters who took part in an outlawed independence referendum in October last year.
Jailed lawmakers seek voting rights
Three of the assembly's lawmakers are currently in jail on charges relating to Catalonia's failed independence bid last year. On Wednesday, they sought permission from the regional parliament to allow them to cast proxy votes with the help of colleagues.
Besides Puigdemont, four other re-elected Catalan lawmakers are in Brussels and face legal hurdles to participating in parliamentary business.
Rajoy's government dissolved Catalonia's regional parliament and called the December vote after the regional lawmakers declared unilateral independence following an October referendum that was ruled illegal.