MADRID: Catalonia's separatist president on Tuesday nominated an administration without jailed and exiled former ministers who backed its independence push, paving the way for Madrid to end its direct rule over the northeastern region.
Spain's central government earlier this month recognised the powers of newly elected Catalan leader Quim Torra but refused to ratify his choice of councillors because four of them are facing charges linked to last year's independence drive, calling their nomination "a new provocation".
Two of the four men are in custody awaiting trial at a jail near Madrid, while the other two are in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
The row has prolonged the political impasse in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, which has been without a government since Madrid in October sacked the Catalan government and imposed direct rule over Catalonia following a failed declaration of independence.
Under the terms of emergency legislation brought in to take over the Catalan administration, Madrid must lift direct rule once a Catalan government is fully formed and cabinet members are sworn in.
Torra, a hardline separatist, late on Tuesday "signed a new decree to form a government in Catalonia", his office said in a statement.
The 13 councillors whom he nominated did not include the four jailed or exiled former ministers from ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's government.
The four men agreed with Torra's decision to nominate a new administration that no longer includes them as they "have always wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem" and want a new Catalan government to be formed "as soon as possible", the statement added.
Torra has been under pressure from some segments of his own separatist camp to adopt a more conciliatory stance to allow a new Catalan government to take office and end Madrid's direct rule.
- 'Accept reality' -
Ines Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos, the main opposition party in Catalonia which wants the region to remain a part of Spain, accused Torra of nominating the four men even though he knew they would not become his councillors "to continue the conflict" with Madrid.
"He should accept reality, respect all Catalans and govern within a democratic framework but he will not do it," she added in a Twitter message.
Torra, a 55-year-old editor who has long campaigned for independence, was chosen by Puigdemont to be Catalonia's next leader after separatist parties kept their absolute majority in regional elections in December.
The election result was a severe blow to the Spanish government which had called the polls in the hope of heading off the secessionist push in the region, which is home to around 7.5 million people and is about the size of Belgium.
Puigdemont is currently in Berlin awaiting potential extradition to Spain, where he faces jail on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.
In a brief swearing-in ceremony on May 17, Torra promised to "loyally fulfil the duties of the post of regional president being faithful to the will of the Catalan people represented by the Catalan parliament", but he did not promise to obey the Spanish constitution.
While the pro-independence movement has grown in strength over the years, the region remains deeply divided on the issue.
Catalonia is a major engine for growth, accounting for around 19 percent of the country's GDP, and the confrontation has sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades.