Carles Puigdemont can't govern Catalonia from exile, Madrid says

Spain's government has dashed any hopes in Catalonia that former president Carles Puigdemont could lead the region from self-imposed exile. Madrid has said it is prepared to challenge his election as leader in court.

A woman biking past a poster showing Carles Puigdemont in Barcelona (Getty Images/J.J. Mitchell)

The Spanish government on Friday warned Catalan separatists against re-electing Carles Puigdemont as regional leader should he remain in self-imposed exile in Brussels.

Madrid's warning came after Catalonia's regional government, where separatist parties boast a majority, agreed to re-elect Puigdemont on Wednesday, raising the scenario that the former leader might govern the northeastern region via video link. Puigdemont himself also raised that possibility when he put himself forward in December's local election.

Read more: Pep Guardiola tells Spain to take note of Catalonia election result

Madrid, however, dismissed such an arrangement.

"Parliamentary rules are very clear: They do not contemplate the possibility of a (parliamentary) presence that is not in person," Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters at a weekly press conference. "This aspiration is a fallacy, it's totally unrealistic and it goes against the rule books and common sense."

De Vigo added that the central government would void Puigdemont's election as Catalan leader and, if necessary, take the issue to court.

The new Catalan parliament is set to hold its first sitting on Wednesday.

Barcelona's search for a leader

Puigdemont faces sedition and rebellion charges for spearheading Catalonia's independence movement last year. Madrid subsequently disbanded his administration after the Catalan parliament voted in favor of the region's independence from Spain following a disputed referendum on October 1. Puigdemont fled to Brussels shortly thereafter to avoid arrest.

However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's decision to hold local elections in Catalonia last month saw the separatist parties, led by Puigdemont's Catalan European Democratic Party, claim a slim majority — once again raising the possibility of a renewed independence push this year.

Because he is currently unable under the Spanish law to lead Catalonia, according to Madrid, Puigdemont would be forced to pass on his seat to another lawmaker able to attend parliamentary sessions.

Read more: Opinion: After Catalan elections, it's back to the drawing board

It remains unclear who that might be as a number of major separatist figures are either in exile with Puigdemont or in custody for their role in organizing October's contested independence referendum.

Also on Friday, a Madrid judge refused a request by Puigdemont's former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, to be transferred to a prison in Barcelona so that he could sit in on parliamentary sessions.

Watch video 00:58

Puigdemont, Rajoy react to Catalan election results

dm/sms (Reuters, dpa)

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