Catalan separatists win regional election

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s secessionist parties won enough votes Thursday to regain a slim majority in the regional parliament and give new momentum to their political struggle for independence from Spain.

It was hardly an emphatic victory, however, as the separatists lost support compared to the previous vote in 2015, and a pro-unity party for the first time became biggest single bloc in the Catalan parliament.

The result left more questions than answers about what’s next for Catalonia, where a long-standing push for independence escalated to a full-on clash with the Spanish government two months ago.

It was also a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who as a result of the separatists’ defiance ousted the Catalan Cabinet and called the early election hoping to keep them out of power.

Instead, the election’s outcome favored fugitive former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into the attempt to split from Spain. The investigation could lead to charges of rebellion and sedition that carry penalties of decades in prison.

Puigdemont, who got the most votes of any separatist candidate, greeted the results with delight and called them a rebuke to Spain’s central government.

“The Spanish state has been defeated,” Puigdemont said. “Mariano Rajoy has received a slap in the face from Catalonia.”

In a televised appearance from Brussels, the 54 year-old former journalist didn’t make clear if he would try to return home, where an arrest warrant awaits him.

The other main winner was Ines Arrimadas, the leading unionist candidate. Scoring 25 percent of the votes, her pro-business Ciutadans (Citizens) party won 37 seats, which will be the biggest single bloc in the 135-seat regional assembly.

“The pro-secession forces can never again claim they speak for all of Catalonia,” Arrimadas said, promising her party will continue to oppose the separatists. “We are going to keep fighting for a peaceful co-existence, common sense and for a Catalonia for all Catalans.”

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