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Catalonia's new president vows to 'implement referendum mandate'

Declaration sure to rile Madrid

CATALONIA’s new leader promised to “implement the mandate from the October referendum” and continue the region’s fight for independence from Spain.

Quim Torra was elected president by members of the region’s parliament by the narrow margin of 66 to 65 and immediately declared his loyalty to exiled former president Carles Puigdemont, who he promised to reinstate as the region’s leader.

The former lawyer was elected following five months of direct rule from Madrid. The national government took control of the region after Mr Puigdemont’s separatists declared independence following a referendum last autumn that Madrid deemed illegal.

Spanish President Mariano Rajoy attempted to stop the referendum, ordering authorities to block polling stations, leading to confrontations with regional firefighters who organised to protect voters.

The declaration of independence triggered a constitutional crisis and a severe crackdown by Spanish authorities with police mobilised from Madrid to quell protests. Mr Puidgemont fled Spain with five others as arrest warrants were issued for the separatist leaders.

Mr Torra, who entered politics with the pro-independence group Omnium Cultura, was backed by Mr Puidgemont, who the Spanish authorities are seeking to extradite from his self-imposed exile in Berlin to face charges of sedition and corruption.

Leader of the unionist Ciudadanos party Ines Arrimadas branded Catalonia’s new leader a “puppet for Puigdemont,” but Mr Torra hit back, insisting the exiled separatist was “the legitimate president” of the region.

Mr Torra told the Catalan parliament he will create a new constituent assembly to write the constitution for a new Catalan republic.

“Our president is Carles Puigdemont, and we will be faithful to the mandate of October: to build an independent state in the form of a republic,” he said, pledging rights for all, no matter how they voted in the independence referendum.

Mr Rajoy called for talks with the newly elected president but expressed concerns over Mr Torra’s comments in the Barcelona-based chamber. He warned that direct rule could be reimposed if the Catalans break the law again.

“We will bet on understanding and agreement in looking at the future. But I say this, and I mean it. I will make sure that the law, the Spanish constitution and the rest of the legal system, are obeyed,” Mr Rajoy said.

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