After bitter row, Catalan separatists to form gov’t

By Daniel Bosque, AFP

BARCELONA — After months of in-fighting, Catalonia’s separatists were set to vote in a new regional president Sunday, paving the way for a government that aims to declare independence from Spain by next year. The fate of Catalonia’s secessionist movement had hung in the balance since regional parliamentary elections in September, as the pro-independence faction that won the polls bickered over who should lead the new local government. The focus of the squabble was Artur Mas, the incumbent, separatist regional president whom the far-left CUP party — part of the secessionist faction that won the elections — rejected over his support for austerity and corruption scandals linked to his party. With Mas stubbornly refusing to step aside as a weekend deadline to form a government loomed, Catalonia seemed to be heading for fresh elections, the fourth since 2010. But at the last minute, Mas agreed to step aside on Saturday, naming relatively unknown journalist and politician Carles Puigdemont as his successor. This should open the door for the now-united separatist lawmakers, who form an absolute majority in Catalonia’s parliament, to vote in Puigdemont as new president on Sunday evening. The 53-year-old Catalan-language journalist and mayor of Girona will then appoint his cabinet. “Our project is solid and working in the right direction,” Puigdemont tweeted after the agreement, as the separatists muster their forces again to take the fight back to Madrid, where the national government is in limbo following inconclusive December polls. ‘Profiting’ From Power Vacuum

Incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) came top in the Dec. 20 elections but lost its absolute majority, leaving him struggling to form a coalition government. “The (separatist) coalition is profiting from the power vacuum in Madrid,” headlined online daily El Espanol on Sunday. Faced with the prospect of secession by Spain’s richest region, Rajoy insisted Saturday that the country’s next national government should have “an ample parliamentary base with the stability and capacity to face the separatist challenge.” So far the PP’s traditional Socialist rivals (PSOE), who came second in the elections, have refused to support him. But ironically, the last-minute separatist deal may favor him as the PSOE stands united with the PP over its opposition to Catalonia separating from Spain. “We reiterate our support for the caretaker government to enforce the law and defend the Constitution,” Socialist lower house parliamentary group spokesman Antonio Hernando told reporters.