HomeTop StoriesCatalan Puigdemont says pro-independence party is on the verge of taking back...

Catalan Puigdemont says pro-independence party is on the verge of taking back control of the region

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Catalonia will hold elections on May 12

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Puigdemont’s return was made possible by a controversial amnesty

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Junts acted as kingmakers for the Spanish socialist government

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Support for independence has ebbed in the polls

By Joan Faus

PERPIGNAN, France, April 16 (Reuters) – Former Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont, who has been living in self-exile since a failed independence bid seven years ago, believes his party is “neck and neck” with Spain’s ruling Socialists for control to gain power. the region in the elections in May.

Puigdemont said failing to do so could make him reconsider his party’s critical support for the national government.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium in 2017 after his bid to secure Catalonia’s independence failed, with Spain’s then-conservative government sending police to quash a referendum that the courts had annulled, and its leaders prosecuted for sedition and misuse of public resources.

Now, with an amnesty law that will acquit him and hundreds of others, he is running for his hardline Junts party in regional elections from across the border in France. If he succeeds, he plans to return to take up his post.

He said that although early April polls showed the Socialists in the lead in Catalonia ahead of the May 12 elections, his party’s internal polls show the race narrowing after he threw his hat in the ring had thrown.

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“A month ago it was a utopia: according to the polls we were in a distant third place,” he told Reuters in an interview. “Now we are neck and neck with the Socialists. There is a serious chance that my party will win.”

That would revive the dormant independence movement and strengthen his hand to force Madrid into more concessions, including a new referendum on independence, he said. “When we have more power, our goals are closer.”

A poll in March showed that most Catalans still favor a referendum, but not independence.

‘DIRTY TRICKS’

After last year’s inconclusive national elections, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had to reach out to regional parties, including the Junts, to support his minority government.

In return, Puigdemont extracted the promise of amnesty, angering Spain’s conservative opposition and much of the Spanish population.

Saying that the continuity of Spain’s national government “depends to a large extent on our votes”, Puigdemont Sánchez warned against risking the Junts’ support by playing “dirty tricks” to gain control of the Catalan government, such as by working with the main opposition center. right-wing People’s Party, while there may well be a viable separatist alternative to governing.

“That would be an intolerable contradiction that would make the relationship untenable,” he said.

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The Socialists downplay Puigdemont’s candidacy and say Catalans want to turn the page.

Opinion polls in early April put the Socialists on 39 seats to the Junts’ 31, while the more moderate separatist Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party, which currently governs the region, has 29 seats and the PP on 13.

Parties must secure 68 seats to gain an absolute majority. Junts would likely have to work with other pro-independence parties, including the ERC, with whom it has a fractious relationship, to govern.

Puigdemont admitted that it would take time to revive the independence movement, as the parties that embraced it were divided and civic enthusiasm waned.

“The repression has caused a lot of damage,” he said. “We need to reconnect with all these people.”

PAIN OF EXILICATION

Puigdemont met Reuters in a co-working office on the outskirts of the French city of Perpignan – less than an hour’s drive from his home in Spain.

From there he will campaign while his arrest warrant remains in force, but has vowed to return for the swearing-in of the new Catalan president regardless of the outcome.

The amnesty is expected to come into effect at the end of May or June, but its application will depend on the judges.

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The 61-year-old former journalist said he accepted the risk of arrest if his amnesty was not approved before the inauguration.

He deplored the divisions the amnesty law has caused in Spain and the vitriol directed at him, including death threats and “fabricated” accusations that he sought Russia’s support for the 2017 independence bid.

He appealed to Spaniards to open their minds to Catalan independence, likening its champions to those who fought for gay rights, colonial independence or religious freedoms.

“The unity of Spain is not a sacred thing, it is a creation of people,” he said. “Despite the loss of colonies, Spain continues to exist today and will continue to exist on the day Catalonia becomes independent”.

Returning to Spain would be the fulfillment of a personal and political desire, he said.

“(In exile) I couldn’t even put flowers on my father’s grave,” he said. “To go into my house, to be able to be with my family under normal circumstances, to see the Girona football club play, to go shopping in the market.”

“It was not easy to get the amnesty law in Spain, but we did it and it puts an end to a phase of unnecessary pain in exile.” (Reporting by Joan Faus, additional reporting by Aislinn Laing, editing by Angus MacSwan)

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