Exiled Catalan leader sets tough terms for talks on Spain’s new PM

By Bart Biesemans

BRUSSELS/MADRID (Reuters) -The exiled former leader of Catalonia, wanted for attempting the region’s secession from Spain, laid out tough conditions for his party’s support in parliament for a new prime minister and the ruling Socialists said their positions were a world apart.

Speaking in Brussels, Carles Puigdemont – wanted for attempting to secede when he led Catalonia from 2016-2017 – said any support from his party would require concessions including an amnesty for separatists by acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s left-leaning coalition.

Otherwise, he said, Spain would have to go to the polls again.

Sanchez’s coalition is seeking the support of Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya party to stay in power following a July 23 election. Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz visited Puigdemont in Brussels on Monday.

Acting government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez reiterated that the Socialists would not do anything that broke constitutional bounds.

“A world separates us from those positions,” Rodriguez told reporters of Puigdemont’s conditions. “Our framework is the one that the prime minister expressed with absolute forcefulness yesterday: We have a tool, dialogue; a framework, the constitution; and an objective: coexistence.”

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, whose conservative People’s Party (PP) won the most votes in the election, will take the first stab at an investiture vote on Sept. 27, but his chances of winning are seen as slim since the PP opposes any concessions to separatists.

If Feijoo’s attempt to form a government fails, it will fall on Sanchez to see if he can muster support, seen as impossible without backing from the seven lawmakers from Puigdemont’s party.

Puigdemont called on Spain to respect the Catalan independence movement’s legitimacy and abandon judicial actions against it.

“We are prepared for elections but also for negotiations which could end with a historic agreement,” Puigdemont said. “We have not endured all these years just to save a legislature.”

Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium since leading the failed push to split Catalonia from Spain, said parliament would need to draw up legislation granting an amnesty for supporters of Catalan independence.

He also argued that an independence referendum would be legal and democratic and said all that was missing was the “political will” to make it happen.

But he stopped short of insisting on a vote as a condition for sitting down to negotiate. Puigdemont’s regional government held a referendum on independence in Catalonia in 2017 despite a ruling by Spain’s constitutional court that it was illegal.

An amnesty and steps paving the way for a referendum “will determine the viability and the success of a negotiation”, Puigdemont said. He also said he would not abandon the option of “unilateral” actions to achieve the goal of independence.

Catalan should also be recognised as an official language within the European Union’s institutions, Puigdemont said.

Feijoo said he had secured support from the hard-right Vox party that would allow the PP to govern as a minority. He said he was considering cancelling a planned meeting with Junts following Puigdemont’s comments.

(Reporting by Bart Biesemans in Brussels, Inti Landauro and Belén Carreño in Madrid; addiotional reporting by Emma Pinedo; Writing by David Latona and Charlie Devereux; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Peter Graff)