Catalan ex-leader Puigdemont launches campaign
Carles Puigdemont on Saturday opened his campaign for December 21 Catalan elections from Belgium, where he is awaiting possible extradition to Spain on sedition charges after his government declared independence from Madrid on October 27.
Puigdemont, who will run at the head of the Junts per Catalunya ("All for Catalonia") grouping, called on Catalans to use the elections to make known their wish for independence.
"We Catalans demonstrated to the world that we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state. And on [December] 21, we must ratify this," he said in the Belgium town of Oostkamp.
"On December 21 we must tell Madrid, the EU and the tripartite support for direct rule that democracy in Catalonia must not be undermined. Never again in Catalonia!" he added.
The Catalan ex-leader has been in exile in Belgium since late October, when his government declared independence from Spain in a unilateral move that has been vehemently condemned by Madrid and led to its issuing an international arrest warrant for several Catalan lawmakers, including Puigdemont.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also dissolved the Catalan parliament, imposed direct rule on the formerly semi-autonomous region and called snap elections in a bid to "restore normality" to the region.
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It remains unclear whether Puigdemont will still be in Belgium when the elections take place, as he is waiting on a decision from authorities there on possible extradition to Spain, where he is wanted on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. If Belgium does decide in favor of extradition, he faces jail pending an investigation into the charges.
He had originally hoped to put up a united separatist front for the December elections, but the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party of his former Vice President Oriol Junqueras has rejected a joint ticket.
Junqueras has remained in Spain and was remanded in custody there on the same charges as Puigdemont.
Altogether 14 Catalan lawmakers, some of whom have been jailed, are being investigated by Spanish authorities after the independence declaration. The declaration came on the heels of a banned independence referendum where some 90 percent of voters came out in favor of the split from Spain, though turnout was well below 50 percent.
Separatist parties are expected to win next month, although polls show that they might fail to achieve the parliamentary majority needed to revive the independence drive.
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tj/jlw (AFP, Reuters)