Catalan parliament meets to elect next separatist chief

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s regional parliament debated Friday whether to elect separatist Pere Aragonès as the next leader of Spain’s restive northeast corner.

Recent public comments by parties in the parliament indicate that Aragonès will fall short of the support he needs in the highly fragmented legislature, at least in a first ballot.

Aragonès is Catalonia’s acting president and the candidate of the Republic Left of Catalonia, one of three parties in the chamber that supports a break from the rest of Spain.

So far, Aragonès can only count on the 33 votes of his party and the nine votes of the far-left, separatist CUP party. That leaves him far from the 68 “Yes” votes he needs for the required absolute majority of the 135-seat house.

A power struggle inside the pro-secession camp has left Aragonès without guarantees that he will collect the votes of Together for Catalonia’s 32 seats.

If he fails Friday, Aragonès will have a second opportunity in another vote in coming days, when the bar will be lowered and instead of an absolute majority he will simply need more votes for him than against him.

Pro-separatist politicians have controlled Catalonia’s government for the past decade as regional politics became radicalized amid Spain’s economic slump within the global recession.

A failed breakaway attempt in October 2017 by the Catalan government ended with several high-profile lawmakers and separatist activists in prison and others on the run in other European countries.

Over three years later, the relatively wealthy region of 7.5 million that speaks Catalan along with Spanish remains deeply divided. Roughly 50% of Catalans want to carve out an independent state, while the other half want to remain a part of Spain and see secession as a threat to their livelihoods and identity.

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