May 5, 2018 / 7:36 PM / 5 months ago

Catalan secessionists again back absent ex-leader for president

BERLIN (Reuters) - Pro-independence Catalan politicians aim to nominate former leader Carles Puigdemont to head their regional government, in defiance of Spain and despite his self-imposed exile in Germany, a spokesman said on Saturday.

Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont attends a meeting with his party's leadership in Berlin, Germany, April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

After meeting Puigdemont in Berlin, where he is currently waiting for Germany to rule on a Spanish request to extradite him, a spokesman for the secessionist group in the regional parliament said they wanted to install him by May 14.

“We want to vote on the investiture of @KRLS (Puigdemont), a legitimate president, the one who emerges from the polls with the mandate ... before May 14,” Eduard Pujol tweeted after addressing reporters in Berlin.

Madrid called regional elections in Catalonia in December in a bid to curb the independence movement, which plunged Spain into its biggest crisis in decades, but the plan backfired and the secessionists kept a slim majority.

Puigdemont had fled Spain in October after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sacked his government. Rajoy has since repeatedly dismissed the suggestion by Puigdemont’s allies that he could rule from a distance.

Time is running out for Catalan lawmakers to pick a leader - if they fail to form a government by May 22, a new election must be held.

This will be the fifth attempt to install a new regional president since Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia, but Spain has already said it will contest a new law, passed in the Catalan parliament on Friday, that allows members to vote for an absent leader.

Reporting by Reuters TV in Berlin and Emma Pinedo in Madrid; writing by Isla Binnie

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