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Barred from office, outgoing Catalan leader says regional elections in coming months

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Joan Faus and Jesús Aguado

MADRID — Outgoing Catalan leader Quim Torra on Monday said regional elections would be held in the coming months after Spain’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling barring him from public office for 18 months.

In a televised address, Torra said he would appeal the sentence, which he described as a politically motivated move to overthrow the Catalan government.

Nevertheless, the ruling took effect as soon as Torra was officially notified of it, meaning Catalan deputy leader Pere Aragones is expected to become acting head.

“This needs to be a turning point. There must be a new plebiscite to confirm the October 1st referendum,”

Torra said, referring to a 2017 independence poll that was declared illegal by the courts.

“I will continue to work tirelessly for the freedom of Catalonia from any other space from which I can be helpful,” he said.

Torra left the Catalan government building on foot as a few hundred people gathered to protest the ruling.

The case stems from Torra’s refusal, during a national election campaign in 2019, to follow orders from Spain’s electoral committee to remove a banner supporting jailed separatists from the main facade of his government palace.

Torra has defended himself on grounds of freedom of expression, but the court said its ruling encompassed not personal rights but defiance of a constitutional body.

Catalonia’s separatist drive has dominated Spanish politics for several years, in particular since the regional assembly made a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017 following a referendum declared illegal by judges.

“Once more, the Spanish state interferes in our democratic institutions,” added Torra’s predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Torra said earlier this month that his removal and a subsequent election would create instability during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cristina Narbona, president of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s PSOE party, said a new regional election should be held fast to stop “political paralysis” in Catalonia.

Catalonia’s 7.5 million people are split over independence, with the latest opinion poll showing 42% in favor but 50% against. (Reporting by Joan Faus in Barcelona and Jesús Aguado, Belen Carreno, Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo, Nathan Allen in Madrid; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Andrew Cawthorne)