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DISCREDITED conservative Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy delayed speaking to Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont yesterday, insisting that he would first seek a meeting with Ciutadans (Citizens) leader Ines Arrimadas.
While the pro-unionist Ciutadans won most votes in the snap regional election called by Mr Rajoy, Mr Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia captured 34 seats in the 135-seat regional assembly, making it the most popular independence party.
It makes up the dominant bloc along with two other pro-independence parties — the left-republican ERC, which collected 32 seats, and the radical, anti-capitalist CUP, which has four seats.
The prime minister’s own Popular Party proved not so popular after all, slumping to bottom of the poll with just three seats.
Mr Rajoy was the architect of his and his party’s own misfortune, not only triggering the election after Mr Puigdemont and his followers declared Catalonia’s independence in October following a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish authorities but also for the level of violence directed against independence supporters.
The Madrid government sent paramilitary police to Catalonia to batter participants in the referendum into submission and followed this by locking up regional government and party officials, charging them with sedition and other crimes.
Mr Puigdemont’s party and other pro-independents were able to draw historical parallels between Mr Rajoy’s government and party, which has its roots in late dictator Franco’s Falange party, and the fascists’ abolition of Catalan autonomy that existed under the Spanish republic in the 1930s.
“The republic has won again in elections,” leading ERC member Marta Rovira declared yesterday in Barcelona.
She demanded that Mr Rajoy “needs to accept dialogue with [ousted Catalan] President Puigdemont and Vice-President Junqueras.”
Ms Rovira added, in respect of the government’s repression of pro-independence politicians that he also “needs to put an end to this unjust exile and imprisonment.”
In his Belgian bolthole, Mr Puigdemont said that he wants guarantees to return to Catalonia and be reinstated as the region’s leader, insisting that Thursday’s election has opened “a new era” for the region.
He signified his readiness to meet Mr Rajoy in any European Union location but Spain, where he still faces arrest.
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