Puigdemont abandons bid to return as Catalan leader

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said he is ending his bid to return to office, and has instead appointed MP Jordi Sànchez

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, whose push for regional independence plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in 40 years, has said he is ending his bid to return to office.

Fugitive Puigdemont, is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium and has been told he may face arrest if he returns to Barcelona to be sworn in.

He is stepping aside in favour of activist Jordi Sanchez, who is currently in prison.

Puigdemont used a 13-minute video shared on social media on Thursday night to confirm reports he was no longer seeking the presidency.

He said that “with the greatest sadness” he had informed the speaker of the Catalan parliament that he was unable to retake the post and that an alternative candidate should be chosen.

He added that he had “provisionally” called off his candidacy and was instead proposing Jordi Sànchez, an MP in his Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party and the former leader of the influential grassroots Catalan National Assembly (ANC). “No one represents the values of JxCat better than him and he is a man of peace who is unjustly locked in a Spanish prison,” said Puigdemont.

 “I will not throw in the towel, I will not quit, I will not give up in the face of the illegitimate behaviour of those who lost at the ballot box or the capriciousness of those who are prepared to forfeit the rule of law and justice as the price for national unity,” he said.

“Madrid no longer has any excuse for continuing its occupation policy nor for carrying on ignoring our voice or imposing a colonial vision on our future.”

Puigdemont also revealed that a team of lawyers had lodged a formal complaint about the Spanish state’s actions with the UN human rights committee.

The deposed president denied that there had been any kind of capitulation on the part of the Catalan independence movement, insisting it had now regrouped and was moving to a different battlefield.

This followed Catalonia's independence referendum last October, which the Spanish courts declared illegal.

The Spanish government welcomed Mr Puigdemont's move to abandon his presidency bid, AFP news agency reports, with a source saying Catalonia needed "to have a regional president as soon as possible".

Puigdemont appointed Jordi Sànchez, an MP currently in custody under investigation for sedition
Puigdemont appointed Jordi Sànchez, an MP currently in custody under investigation for sedition

Who is Jordi Sànchez?

Sànchez has been in custody since mid-October, when he and another pro-independence civil society group leader, Jordi Cuixart, were arrested as part of an investigation into alleged sedition in the runup to the regional independence referendum a fortnight earlier.

On the Twitter account run in his name while he is in prison, Sanchez wrote on Thursday: "It is a great honour and enormous responsibility to be able to represent the people of Catalonia."

Amnesty International has called for the release of Sànchez, calling his continuing detention “an excessive and disproportionate restriction on his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”. Lawyers for Sànchez, Cuixart and the former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras are appealing to the United Nations, claiming the men are unlawfully imprisoned.


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