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Spain PM urges Catalan parliament formation in January

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called on the new regional parliament to hold its maiden session in mid-January.

Speaking in an end-of-year address to the nation on Friday, Rajoy urged the new Catalan parliament to convene on January 17, Madrid’s first step in reinstating local government after it fired the old regional administration for illegally declaring independence.

“I hope that as soon as possible we will be able to have a Catalan government that is open to dialogue and able to relate to all Catalans, not just half of them,” the premier said.

He expressed hope that the new Catalan government would be able to “revert the great economic and social effects of the recent crisis.”

His remarks came after Catalan separatists won a crucial snap poll on December 21.

Madrid had called the poll after Catalonia’s regional parliament declared independence from Spain on October 27, triggering the country’s worst political crisis since democracy was reinstated following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The independence motion was approved in the 135-seat chamber as 70 Catalan lawmakers voted in favor, 10 against. Two ballot papers were blank. The ballot was boycotted by the opposition parties: the Socialist Party, the People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos.

Soon after the vote, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid made the unprecedented move of authorizing Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly.

Rajoy had sacked Catalonia’s government, dissolved its parliament and stripped the region of its treasured autonomy.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said on December 6 he and four of his ex-cabinet members plan to remain in Belgium “for the moment” after Spain dropped an international warrant for his arrest.

“For the moment we will stay here (in Belgium),” Puigdemont said, speaking French during a press conference in Brussels.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Spanish prime minister also denounced as “absurd” the idea that ousted Catalan president could govern from Belgium.

“It is absurd to pretend to be the president of a region when you live abroad, and even more absurd to pretend that you are carrying out this function from abroad,” Rajoy said.

Other independence leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, are behind bars in Spain pending trial.

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