Former Catalan President Steps Down as Leader of Separatist Party

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Former Catalan President Artur Mas said on Tuesday he would step down as head of his separatist political party to pave the way for new leaders of Catalonia's independence movement after reports of internal divisions.

Mr Puigdemont fled to Brussels after Spanish authorities levelled charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds against him for his role in the region's disputed independence referendum.

The deal comes after pro-independence parties won the narrowest of majorities in seats in the Catalonian parliament at elections on December 21 called by Spain's national government - which had suspended Catalonia's government.

A spokesman for JpC confirmed that the two parties aim to "move forward with this new parliamentary term with Puigdemont as the president".

But this was short-lived as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on the semi-autonomous region, sacked its government, dissolved its parliament and called snap elections.

However, it is unclear how Mr Puigdemont would lead the regional government from Brussels as he could be arrested if he returns to Spain.

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The pro-independence parties Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC)(Republican Left of Catalonia) said on Wednesday they would support Puigdemont's return to the top job.

He is in Belgium, however, and will be arrested if he comes back to Spain on charges of rebellion and sedition.

Market-friendly Ciudadanos, which wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain and is led by Ines Arrimadas, gained the largest share of the popular vote but unionist parties did not win enough seats to govern by majority. Insisting that such methods would be illegal, Mr Maillo said anything other than a traditional investiture - in which a president presented himself and his programme to parliament for a vote - would be "a real mockery, first of the Catalans, and then of the rest of the parliamentary groups". Spain has jailed other pro-separatist leaders involved in the independence push. Three are still behind bars pending a trial, while Puigdemont, with four of his cabinet members, fled to Brussels.

"The presidential candidate will evidently be Puigdemont".

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister's hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

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