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Exiled Carles Puigdemont demands return to Catalonia by 23 January

Exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has hinted he would listen to offers from Spain that fall short of independence as he demanded a return to his homeland.

Mr Puigdemont, who left for Belgium to avoid arrest in October, has called on Spain’s government to allow him to return home to become the region’s president at the opening session of the Catalan parliament on 23 January.

His demand follows victory for separatist parties in Catalonia’s regional elections.

“If the Spanish state has a proposal for Catalonia, we should listen,” he said, hinting that he would consider a range of possibilities and calling for a dialogue of equals with Madrid.

:: Catalonia independence: What you need to know

Mr Puigdemont faces arrest in Catalonia for his role in organising a referendum on independence, which took place under his regional presidency in October and was deemed illegal under the Spanish constitution.

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Barcelona Braced For Catalan Elections
BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 20: A member of the public cycles past an election poster for the forthcoming Catalan regional election showing the deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on December 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Catalonians will head to the polls tomorrow, in an election set to replace or re-elect the deposed separatist leaders whose secession bid plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades. (Photo by Jeff J Mitch
Independence parties came out on top in the regional elections

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Mr Puigdemont said it would be a “major abnormality for the Spanish democratic system” if he were not allowed to be sworn in as Catalan president on his return.

Mr Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, claimed 34 seats in Thursday’s elections and two other pro-independence parties took 36, giving separatist groups more than the 68 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.

“I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. I would like to come back right now. It would be good news for Spain,” Mr Puigdemont said.

“I am the president of the regional government and I will remain the president if the Spanish state respects the results of the vote.”

Catalonia went to the polls after its government was dissolved by Madrid, which seized control in the semi-autonomous region and called elections following the referendum.

Although separatists commanded a majority in the vote, the most popular party was the pro-union Citizens party, which promised to fight the separatists after winning 37 seats.

Mr Puigdemont hailed the result as a victory for the “Catalan republic” over the Spanish state, and said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his allies had lost the mandate to rule that they has sought in the election.

“This is a result which no one can dispute,” Mr Puigdemont told supporters in Brussels. “I think we have earned our right to be listened to.”

Negotiations to form a new Catalan government in Catalonia will likely open after 6 January, and parliament must vote by 8 February on putting a new government in place.

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