Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Thursday said he was giving up his bid for a second term in office, Reuters reported. Puigdemont was at the forefront of the movement for Catalonia’s independence from Spain that led to massive protests in 2017 and resulted in the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
Puigdemont, now in self-imposed exile in the Belgian capital Brussels, announced in a video on social media that he was stepping aside for Jordi Sanchez, another pro-independence leader currently in a prison in Madrid on charges of sedition.
He said he had informed the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament “with the greatest sadness” that he will not be able to take up the post again, and that he thought this was the best way forward, The Guardian reported. The decision “does not fully guarantee the restoration of our autonomy”, he said, “but it will give us the freedom to undertake the next phase of the road towards independence”.
Puigdemont’s announcement comes the same day Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Catalonia must choose a leader “who is in Spain now...and who has no problems with the law”, Reuters reported.
Madrid has been ruling Catalonia directly for the past four months, since Rajoy invoked constitutional powers to take over governance of the autonomous region.
Puigdemont fled to Belgium in October after declaring Catalonia’s independence from Spain. He will be arrested for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to break Catalonia from Spain the moment he steps back into his country.
However, Rajoy’s statement means nominating Sanchez for president may also not solve the crisis as he is in jail.
Meanwhile, Puigdemont’s lawyers have filed a complaint against Spain with the United Nations Human Rights Council for violating his right of self-determination. “I’m confident that we will win in the end, and one day, I will be able to return to Catalonia as a free man,” Puigdemont said at the end of the video.