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From Exile, Puigdemont Abandons Pursuit Of Catalonian Presidency

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont — seen here in December in Brussels, where he is in exile — said Friday he no longer will pursue his bid for a second term in office.
Jasper Juinen
Getty Images
Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont — seen here in December in Brussels, where he is in exile — said Friday he no longer will pursue his bid for a second term in office.

Carles Puigdemont, the ousted separatist leader of Catalonia, is abandoning his bid to be elected once again as president of northeastern region of Spain.

In a video message posted from Belgium where he's in exile, Puigdemont called the actions of the Spanish authorities only "a temporary setback."

"We will achieve independence for the people we represent," he said in English. "That is our mandate, and we will fulfill it."

In a longer video in Catalan, Puigdemont said that he announced the decision "with great sadness," The New York Times reports.

Puigdemont fled Spain, where he faces arrest on sedition and rebellion charges, and took refuge in Belgium last fall. Spain rescinded its European arrest warrant against him in December after Belgium made clear it would not extradite him.

Catalonian separatist parties pushed for Puigdemont to be put back in power, suggesting perhaps that he could lead from exile, but he was unable to attend a requisite parliamentary session in order to assume office, the Times reports.

He said that his party would instead propose another pro-secession legislator, Jordi Sanchez, to run for the Catalonian presidency.

But Sanchez's candidacy is no less complicated than Puigdemont's: He is currently in detention in a Madrid prison on charges of sedition.

The nomination of Sanchez was dismissed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, The Guardian reports:

" 'I ask that they choose a president who doesn't have legal problems,' Rajoy said in an interview with the broadcaster Telecinco.

" 'Anything else is frankly a joke. As far as I'm concerned, they can choose whoever they want, but I think choosing someone with legal problems would be an enormous mistake and would send the message "We're carrying on with the confrontation".' "

Lawyers for Puigdemont filed a complaint on Thursday with the United Nations Human Rights Council, arguing that Spanish authorities have violated the principle of self-determination.

"The applicant's right to participate in the government of his country through democratic elections has been snuffed out and the right of the people of Catalonia to elect their chosen representatives to govern them has been frustrated by repressive actions of the central authorities in Madrid," the document says, according to the Guardian.

The New York Times reports that Puigdemont had become an enigmatic figure in his self-imposed exile:

"In Belgium, Mr. Puigdemont became a chimera of Catalonia's expectations, an elusive Where's Waldo-like figure whose appearances were breathlessly tracked by journalists. He was seen hiking in a forest near Brussels, and then spotted at a market in Ghent. He was photographed at the opera, and then dining at a restaurant close to the border with Holland. ...

"In public, Mr. Puigdemont maintained that he had the right to be president despite not being in the country, since the Catalan public had given the independence movement a democratic mandate in the December elections.

"But in private, Mr. Puigdemont had for some time admitted that his position was untenable. In late January, a Spanish broadcaster surreptitiously captured text messages that he had sent to a colleague admitting that 'this is over.' "

It's unclear what Puigdemont will do now.

"I am confident that we will win in the end," he said in his video message, "and that I will one day soon, I hope, be able to return to Catalonia as a free man."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.