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Exiled separatist Puigdemont will run to lead Catalonia

By Joan Faus

ELNE, France (Reuters) – Exiled Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont will seek to lead the northeastern region in elections in May, he said on Thursday, even though he would risk arrest if he returns to Spain.

“It’s the moment to be (in Catalonia). Let it be clear that my objective is to complete the process of independence we began in October 2017,” Puigdemont said in a speech in the French town of Elne, around 30 kilometres (18.64 miles) from the Spanish border.

Puigdemont, who is the founder of hardline separatist party Junts, is subject of an arrest warrant in Spain over his role as president of Catalonia during a 2017 vote to break away from Spain, and a subsequent declaration of independence that courts declared illegal.

The independence bid prompted Madrid to impose direct rule in Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

Puigdemont, 61, fled Spain to avoid arrest over charges of disobedience and embezzlement over the crisis and lives in Belgium where he serves as an MEP.

But he could return to Spain to hold office under an amnesty for separatists announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists in return for the votes of separatists to prop up their minority national government.

Should he win the Catalan election, it would be a blow for the Sanchez government, which is already under fire for approving the amnesty, and the independence drive would be reinvigorated.

At present, the Socialists are leading the polls to take over regional leadership of Catalonia from the separatists, and officials say they are unconcerned by the prospect of Puigdemont running for the competition.

(Reporting by Joan Faus, writing by Aislinn Laing; editing by Barbara Lewis)


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