Catalan secessionists poised to elect new regional leader in second vote

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The Catalan parliament is expected to elect fiercely pro-independence candidate Quim Torra to be its regional president later Monday as separatists seek to end the emergency direct rule imposed by Madrid previous year and renew their secession bid. Considered a radical hardline separatist, Torra was elected with a razor-thin majority when 66 of the delegates voting in his favour and 65 others cast their ballot against his candidacy. Torra will have another chance during a second round on Monday, when only a simple majority is required.

Newly elected Catalonia regional president, Quim Torra, is greeted by Republican Left of Catalonia spokesman Sergi Sabria at the regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, May 14, 2018.

Separatist parties won regional elections in December.

Addressing the parliament on Monday, Mr Torra mentioned "Carles Puigdemont is our president".

Torra also has promised to create a "state council in exile" and vowed to establish a constituent assembly to write the constitution for a new Catalan republic.

Puigdemont, who handpicked Torra for the presidency, described him as "very honourable" in a tweet on Monday following the parliamentary vote.

"It's essential that we put an end to direct rule from Madrid and for that reason alone this is definitely good news", said 33-year-old actor Sergi Cervera, waiting outside an office building near the city's famous Las Ramblas boulevard.

Quim Torra, the former leader of a pro-independence civil society group, has vowed to continue working toward an independent Catalan republic.

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"Everybody will win rights with the republic", Torra told lawmakers in a speech before the vote.

Central authorities have been ruling Catalonia directly from Madrid since the regional government led by Puigdemont relied on the results of an outlawed October 1 referendum to declare unilateral independence from Spain.

In the case of Puigdemont, he was unable to return from self-imposed exile.

Rajoy said that constitutional direct rule "could be used again if necessary", if the next regional leadership did not respect the law.

Polls show that Catalonia's 7.5 million residents are evenly divided on whether the region should secede from Spain.

Central authorities have been ruling Catalonia directly from Madrid since the regional government led by Puigdemont relied on the results of an outlawed referendum in October to declare unilateral independence from Spain.

Torra faces divisions within the separatist camp, composed of the CUP, the leftwing ERC party and Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia grouping, according to Antonio Barroso, deputy research director at Teneo Intelligence.

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