World News

Catalan parliament acts to allow absent candidate to be voted leader

MADRID (Reuters) - The Catalan regional parliament on Friday approved a law giving members the right to vote for a leader in absentia, a move aimed at allowing former head Carles Puigdemont to be voted leader even though he is in self-imposed exile.

The Spanish government said it would appeal the new law via the Constitutional Court. The regional parliament - with a majority of parties seeking a split from Spain - approved the law by 70 votes to 65.

Attempts by Madrid to derail a Catalan independence movement that plunged the country into its biggest crisis in decades by calling local elections backfired in December when pro-independence parties gained a majority.

Puigdemont is currently in Berlin waiting for German authorities to rule on whether he should be extradited to Spain to be tried for mis-use of public funds.

He fled to Belgium in October after his administration was fired by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy following an illegal declaration of independence.

The Spanish government has repeatedly dismissed the possibility of long-distance rule by Puigdemont as absurd and has said Madrid would stay in charge of Catalonia if the ex-leader tried to govern from abroad.

Time is running out for Catalan lawmakers to select a leader and form a government - they must do so before May 22 or new elections will be called.

Since the election, the Catalan parliament has attempted to put forward a candidate for leader four times, but each attempt has been blocked by Madrid and courts because the candidates are either being held in custody in prison or living abroad.

Reporting By Raquel Castillo; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Richard Balmforth