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Hardline separatist appointed leader of Catalonia

Updated May 15, 2018

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Newly appointed Catalan president Quim Torra, leaves the parliament after a parliamentary vote session in Barcelona. ─ AP
Newly appointed Catalan president Quim Torra, leaves the parliament after a parliamentary vote session in Barcelona. ─ AP

BARCELONA: Quim Torra, a newcomer to politics who has campaigned fiercely for Catalonia’s independence, was appointed regional president on Monday vowing to keep fighting for a break from Spain. Torra’s election by the regional parliament paves the way for a new government in Catalonia after months of political limbo.

Analysts warn the road ahead will be rocky as he faces rifts within the separatist camp and Catalans remain deeply split over leaving Spain.

Torra, handpicked as presidential candidate by deposed, exiled leader Carles Puigdemont, scraped through the parliamentary vote — 66 separatist lawmakers voted for him, 65 non-independence MPs against and four abstained.

The 55-year-old father of three pledged to respect the result of an independence referendum, which was held on October 1 despite a court ban and marred by police violence. Catalan separatist authorities said 90 per cent of the 2.2 million people who cast their ballot in the referendum — out of 5.5 million eligible voters — opted to break from Spain.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for “understanding and harmony” but warned that he would not tolerate any breaking of the law and Spain’s constitution.

The formation of a new government will automatically lift direct rule imposed by Madrid on October 27 after separatist lawmakers made a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence.

In a bid to end the biggest political crisis to hit Spain in decades, Rajoy called snap regional elections for December which separatist parties won as the secessionist movement in Catalonia showed no sign of dying down.

But since then, the presidential candidates put forward by the separatist camp had all fallen flat as they were either in jail in Spain over their role in the secession bid or in self-exile.

Torra, who was elected to the Catalan parliament in December on Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia list, finally made it through as he has no legal woes.

During Monday’s session, in which he only needed a simple majority, he outlined his new government’s plans for education, health and employment.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2018