May 21, 2018 / 10:45 AM / 5 months ago

Madrid blocks Catalan councillors as stand-off drags on

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government on Monday recognized the powers of newly-elected Catalan leader Quim Torra but objected to his choice of councillors - some of whom are being held in custody - and refused to ratify his chosen team, official documents showed.

Newly elected Catalan regional leader Quim Torra passes a civil guard, as he leaves the Estremera prison where he visited former Catalan cabinet members Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull and Raul Romeva, who are jailed there, pending trial, on charges of sedition, rebellion and misappropriation of funds, in Estremera, Spain May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The outcome means that Madrid will continue to impose direct rule on the northeastern region.

Torra, a separatist who wants to recreate the administration that declared independence from Spain in October, put forward four men as councillors who are either being held in custody or are living in self-imposed exile.

Madrid and Barcelona are engaged in a months-long stand-off after regional elections called by the government in December returned a majority of seats for pro-independence parties.

Under the terms of emergency legislation brought in to take over the Catalan administration, Madrid must lift direct rule once the Catalan government is fully formed and cabinet members named.

But the government said the naming of the four men, who are accused of crimes including rebellion and mis-use of public funds, amounted to a deliberate provocation.

It is uncertain now when direct rule by Madrid will be lifted. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Monday he hoped Catalonia would soon form a viable government that would obey the law.

“I hope there will soon be a government that is viable, that obeys the law and that enters into dialogue with us,” he said in a speech at an event in Galica. “One that will work to recover institutional and political normality in our country.”

Spanish courts ruled that an Oct. 1 independence referendum and subsequent declaration of independence were illegal because they went against Spain’s constitution which states the nation is indivisible.

PM Rajoy telephoned two opposition leaders - Pedro Sanchez of the Socialists and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) - on Saturday to discuss the situation and ask for their support.

Both parties, which together with Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) make up a majority of seats in Spain’s parliament, agree that direct rule of Catalonia must be maintained until a regional administration is in place.

“We, all those parties which support the constitution, must accept reality and apply the constitution together,” Rivera said in a television interview on Monday.

“Peace and stability are needed in Catalonia for its economy and for social harmony.”

The Catalan parliament voted in Torra, chosen by former leader Carles Puigdemont who is now living in Germany, last week.

Puigdemont is in Germany awaiting the decision of a German court on an extradition order from Spain on a charge of misuse of public funds for his part in the organization of the illegal referendum last October.

Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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