A fiercely secessionist leader was elected president of the wealthy region of Catalonia thanks to a last-minute show of unity, giving fresh impetus to attempts to break away from Spain after months of infighting. The appointment of Carles Puigdemont, just hours before a deadline which would have forced fresh regional elections, drew an immediate rebuke from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “The government won’t allow a single act that could harm the unity and sovereignty of Spain,” Rajoy warned in a live televised appearance in Madrid. Rajoy’s remarks came after Catalonia’s pro-independence faction that won regional parliamentary elections in September finally came to an agreement this weekend over who should lead the new local government.
The sticking point had been Artur Mas, the incumbent, separatist regional president whom the far-left CUP — part of the secessionist faction that topped the polls — rejected over his support for austerity and corruption scandals linked to his party.
In a surprise move Mas agreed to step aside on Saturday, naming the relatively unknown politician Puigdemont as his successor and sparing Catalonia its fourth set of elections since 2010.
Puigdemont, the 53-year-old mayor of Girona who comes from a fervently pro-independence family, will now appoint his cabinet. “We need… to start the process to set up an independent state in Catalonia,” Puigdemont said in a speech to the northeastern region’s parliament ahead of the vote.