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Jailed Sanchez gets second bid for Catalan presidency after U.N. rights boost

MADRID (Reuters) - Catalonia’s parliament made a second attempt on Monday to put forward as the region’s new leader a pro-independence politician awaiting trial on charges of rebellion, after a U.N. rights group said he should be allowed to run for office.

Activists put up banners with the photos of jailed leaders of Catalan pro-independence movements ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Omnium Cutural, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, before Catalonia's former leader Carles Puigdemont addresses a news conference in Berlin, Germany, April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Lawmakers first selected Jordi Sanchez in March, but that bid was dropped as he was unable to attend the investiture ceremony, the government in Madrid having jailed him for helping orchestrate pro-independence protests last year.

The investiture that parliament’s speaker announced for Friday - but which Spain’s Supreme Court seems likely to block - would mark Catalonia’s fourth attempt to choose a president since a loose alliance of secessionist groups won an election there in December.

Spain’s central authorities called that vote having taken charge of the wealthy northeastern region in October, when it declared independence in an act that the courts said was illegal and that landed several members of the regional cabinet and civic leaders behind bars.

As well as Sanchez, Catalan lawmakers have since the ballot put forward former leader Carles Puigdemont and his ally Jordi Turull as potential presidents.

Puigdemont, who fled Spain five months ago after his administration’s declaration of independence, withdrew his candidacy on March 1, and Turull fell short of majority support.

If a new leader is not named before the end of May, Catalonia will be forced to call another election.

Parliament speaker Roger Torrent said on Monday that Sanchez - the former head of pro-independence civic group Catalan National Assembly - was being nominated for a second time, following the message from the United Nations Human Rights Committee in support of his political rights.

“If the Supreme Court does not comply with the (UN) resolution it will be irreparably damaging to the political rights of Jordi Sanchez and the Spanish state will not be meeting its international obligations,” Torrent said as he announced Friday’s investiture.

In letters last month to Spanish authorities and Sanchez’s lawyers, the UN committee requested the state take all steps to ensure he be allowed to exercise his right to stand for office, while noting it had reached no decision “on the substance of the matter under consideration.”

The judge in the case against Sanchez appears unlikely to row back on a ban on him attending parliament, however, with Spain’s Supreme Court having ruled he could not leave jail for March’s investiture session.

Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Julien Toyer and John Stonestreet