New Catalan leader rules out UDI

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New regional leader says he remains committed to independence from Spain

By Alyssa McMurtry

MADRID – The leader of Catalonia, Charles Puigdemont, has ruled out a unilateral declaration of independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain – for now.

In an interview with Expansion, a popular economics daily in Spain, the new leader clarified his previously unknown position on Monday.

“In this term there won’t be a unilateral declaration of independence because it isn’t planned and it’s not our commitment, but yes we will do all the work we can so that this country can be an independent state,” said Puigdemont.

Puigdemont was elected in January as a replacement for Artur Mas, who was unable to gain the support of left-wing separatists in the Catalan parliament.

In September’s elections Catalan separatists won a majority government in a vote which they promoted as their only alternative to an independence referendum – something the Spanish government has always opposed. Upon winning, they declared their intention to work towards independence.

In November, the Catalan parliament passed a nine-point resolution for independence from Spain by 2017.

Although the plan gave lawmakers an 18-month timeframe for leaving Spain, it now appears that the end game will not be a unilateral declaration before the end of the current government’s term.

The nine-point resolution for independence has been suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court, which also warned Catalan separatist leaders that they could face legal charges for continuing with the plan.

However, the Catalan resolution specifically called the Constitutional Court “delegitimized”.

Local media are now speculating that the Catalan government plans to call new elections when the 18 months are finished. They suggest that if the separatists win again, they would be tasked with writing a constitution for Catalonia. They would then call a referendum and only declare independence if the referendum passes.

In 2014 the Catalan government did try to hold a referendum, however it was rendered symbolic after Spain’s government declared it illegal.

Since Spain’s general election in December, the country has been unable to form a government. Puigdemont said he hopes a new government will form that is more flexible towards Catalonia.

Of Spain’s now four major national parties, three are firmly opposed to a Catalan referendum. Only the left-leaning Podemos party wants to grant the region a referendum similar to that of Scotland or Quebec.

“We want a government that comes from a place of understanding about what’s been happening in Catalonia over the last five years, dialogue about why millions of Catalonians want independence and to ask why they are demanding a referendum,” Puigdemont told Expansion.

“From that place of understanding of reality, which can’t be erased with decrees or punishments, we can start to negotiate,” he said.

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