Vote on Catalonia’s new president canceled to await EU court

MADRID (AP) — The speaker of Catalonia’s assembly suspended Friday a vote to elect the northeast Spanish region’s new president, and no new date was scheduled.

Regional parliament Speaker Roger Torrent decided to wait for a European Court of Human Rights ruling on whether a jailed leader of the region’s independence movement can be Catalonia’s next president, a statement from the Catalan Parliament said.

The decision was announced late Friday and came after Spain’s Supreme Court turned down the jailed leader’s request to attend a session of parliament previously set for Monday. Lawmakers had planned to vote on making him the region’s leader.

Jordi Sanchez, a prominent secessionist who was elected to parliament in December, has been imprisoned near Madrid since October. He is being detained while Spain’s Supreme Court investigates whether he orchestrated protests that hindered officials trying to stop a court-banned Catalan independence referendum that month.

The investigating magistrate, Judge Pablo Llarena, wrote there was a risk that Sanchez would repeat the offenses that landed him in jail. He ordered Sanchez kept in preventive detention without bail.

Sanchez’s lawyers said they planned to take the case to the European court as early as Monday morning.

Separatist politicians, including Torrent, say that if the law allowed Sanchez to run in the regional election when he already was in custody, he deserves full rights as an elected lawmaker.

“In this case, Sanchez’s right to political participation is at stake,” the speaker’s statement said.

But Spain’s central authorities argue that anyone who is facing charges and is unable to be present at the debate and vote in Barcelona can’t be elected by the Catalan parliament.

It isn’t clear whether Sanchez would have enough votes to be elected as Catalan president in a first vote, which requires an absolute majority. Lawmakers from the two main Catalan separatist parties could award him the office through a second vote.

The Spanish Constitution says Spain is “indivisible,” but that hasn’t stopped separatists trying to break away despite repeated legal setbacks.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s ex-leader who fled to Brussels to escape arrest, announced last week that he was temporarily withdrawing his bid to get his old job back and proposed Sanchez — his No. 2 in the Together for Catalonia separatist list — in his place.

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