#Catalonia parties propose self-exiled former leader as president

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Former Catalan President Artur Mas said on Tuesday he would step down as head of his separatist political party to pave the way for new leaders of Catalonia's independence movement after reports of internal divisions. Puigdemont, who is in Belgium after he was ousted by the Spanish government in October after being accused of holding an illegal referendum, risks arrest if he goes back to Spain.

JpC won 34 seats in the December 21 regional elections, while ERC won 32 with the radical separatists CUP claiming 4 seats to give pro-Catalan independence forces a majority in the 150 seats Catalan Assembly.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister, called the election hoping that voters in the prosperous region would halt the drive for independence.

Pro-independence parties achieved a slim majority of seats but they failed to get over 50% of the popular vote, bringing no resolution to months of a increasingly bitter impasse.

A spokesman from his Together for Catalonia political platform said that Puigdemont has gained the support of ERC separatists as well. Those leaders remain out of the country, and Puigdemont has said if he's re-elected, he would discharge his duties remotely, via a video linkup such as Skype.

Carles Puigdemont aims to return to office as president of Catalonia - despite the fact it's unlikely he'll actually return there in person.

Many of the Catalan political leaders were arrested on charges of sedition and rebellion after the independence declaration, with three still behind bars pending a trial, while Puigdemont, with four of his cabinet members, fled to Brussels.

Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos (Citizens), which favours unity with Spain, said a fugitive from justice could not be a leader in Catalonia. The Spanish leader has also described as "absurd" the idea that Puigdemont could lead Catalonia from overseas.

The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

In order to guarantee a separatist majority in a parliamentary vote this month, Junqueras and the other jailed separatists are expected to ask for special permission from Spain's judiciary to travel to Barcelona for one day to cast their votes. Spain responded by sacking Puigdemont and his government, dissolved the local parliament and called a new election December 21.

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