Ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont withdraws bid to regain power

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont takes part in a meeting with members of the Catalan Parliament in Brussels

Mr Rajoy said that a Catalan leader "must be chosen now who is in Spain. and who has no problems with the law".

Puigdemont has been facing charges of sedition and rebellion in Spain and is likely to be arrested if he returns.

Spanish media reported Thursday that Puigdemont will withdraw his candidacy for the presidency of the northeastern region of Spain.

He fled to Belgium to avoid prison after a political crisis erupted in the wake of an independence referendum by the Catalan regional government on October 1 previous year which the Spanish central government had declared illegal.

Catalonia has been ruled directly from Madrid for the last four months since Rajoy invoked constitutional powers to take over government in the region.

In a move likely to be seen as the formation of a government in exile, Puigdemont said he was planning to set up a foundation overseas - the Council for the Republic - to promote Catalan independence.

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Puigdemont was the only candidate put forward by Catalonia's parliament in Barcelona and lawmakers were expected to vote him in for another term as president. "I'm confident that we will win in the end, and one day, I will be able to return to Catalonia as a free man", Puigdemont said at the end of the video.

Jordi Sanchez is now in a Madrid prison on the charges of sedition. Puigdemont's announcement did little to increase the chances of ending the separatists' standoff with the central government in Madrid.

Meanwhile, Puigdemont's lawyers have filed a complaint against Spain with the United Nations Human Rights Council for violating his right of self-determination.

Catalonia's future has been deadlocked since defiant secessionists gained a slim majority in the Catalan parliament in December's regional election.

However, it gave no clue as to how the region could move forward from a political impasse that has prevented the naming of a leader since the election.

The region of Catalonia held a referendum in October of 2017, leading to a unilateral declaration of independence.

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