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Puigdemont candidate for Catalan president, escapes EU warrant

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The speaker of the Catalan parliament on Monday proposed the region's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont as president of Catalonia, as a Spanish judge refused to re-issue a European warrant for his arrest.

Roger Torrent said Puigdemont's candidacy to once again head Catalonia's regional government is "absolutely legitimate", even though the secessionist leader faces criminal proceedings in Spain over his role in Catalonia's independence drive.

The parliamentary vote to choose a new Catalan leader is now due to take place by the end of January.

In a major blow to the central government in Madrid, separatist parties once again won an absolute majority in the Catalan regional parliament in a snap election in December.

Puigdemont wants to be sworn in from Belgium, where he fled in late October after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence, sparking shock waves across an EU already shaken by Britain's vote to leave.

Madrid sacked Puigdemont and his entire government, and it dissolved the parliament following the declaration.

Charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Puigdemont now faces arrest if he returns to Spain over his role in the independence drive.

The government in Madrid has ruled out his being allowed to rule from outside the country and even his separatist allies -- the leftwing ERC party of Puigdemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras -- are cool in private to his bid to rule from abroad.

Spanish prosecutors on Monday sought to have a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont re-issued as he arrived in Copenhagen in his first trip outside of Belgium since he fled to the country.

But Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena turned down the request, arguing Puigdemont had gone to Denmark "to provoke this arrest abroad" as part of a strategy to boost his arguments in favour of being allowed to be sworn in as president of Catalonia again.

Llarena had dropped a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his deputies who fled to Belgium in early December, saying it would complicate the overall probe into the region's leaders -- but warned they would be arrested if they return.

Danish broadcaster TV2 released an image on its website of Puigdemont surrounded by reporters after his plane landed in Copenhagen Airport.

On his Twitter feed, Puigdemont confirmed his arrival in the Danish capital, where he is due to take part in a debate at the University of Copenhagen about the secession crisis in the region later on Monday.

His trip is also scheduled to include a visit to the Danish parliament.

The visit might help Puigdemont avoid problems in Belgium, where he has been for three months without a residence permit.

- Governing from abroad 'illegal'? -
Three other separatist lawmakers are already in custody in Spain over their role in Catalonia's separatist push, including Junqueras, his former deputy.

The Catalan parliament's legal experts have said that any presidential contender has to be physically present, but Puigdemont insists he has the legitimate mandate of the people to rule.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated Saturday that governing Catalonia from abroad would be "illegal" and has warned Madrid would maintain its direct control over the region and will take the matter to court if Puigdemont sought remote rule.

Madrid's direct rule has proven very unpopular in a region that had enjoyed considerable autonomy before its leaders attempted to break away from Spain.

Catalonia's separatist push has sparked Spain's biggest constitutional crisis since the country returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and has deeply worried the country's EU partners.



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