Catalonia's radical separatists clear means for brand spanking new chief

REUTERS

REUTERS

Catalonia's main separatist parties have taken a significant step towards ending the region's political deadlock by voting on a presidential candidate who is not facing prosecution in Spain.

They also say the rebellion charge against him and others is disproportionate, and describe those already in jail in Spain - like former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras - as "political prisoners".

Catalonia's parliament has failed to elect a regional president by absolute majority, in its fifth attempt to form a new government in the northern Spanish region.

After a decade of activism for Catalonia, presiding over groups such as the influential pro-independence Omnium Cultural, Torra was elected a lawmaker in December as part of Puigdemont's list Together for Catalonia.

Torra's election is expected to end the Spanish government's takeover of running Catalonia's affairs that started with an illegal declaration of independence by the regional parliament in October. He added he was ready to talk "without conditions" with the government of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

Mr Torra also reiterated his openness to dialogue with Madrid, as well as calling on the European Union to oversee negotiations.

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What happens next? Regional lawmakers must vote in favor of Torra's candidacy.

The 55-year-old, a fervent secessionist, will have another chance during a second round on Monday, when only a simple majority of more "yes" than "no" votes is required.

Separatists won regional elections in December, but fresh polls will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22.

There are now 70 lawmakers in the regional parliament who are pro-independence, against 65 who are not.

Antonio Barroso, deputy research director at Teneo Intelligence, told AFP that Torra - an editor who also held high positions within pro-independence associations - will likely act as Puigdemont's "surrogate". That prompted Madrid to impose direct rule and led to months of political limbo.

In March, Torra gave a rousing speech to the regional parliament calling on separatists to keep up their campaign against the central government.

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