Separatist Aragones elected head of government in Spain's Catalonia region

·2-min read

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) -Left-wing separatist Pere Aragones was elected as head of Catalonia's regional government on Friday after promising to pursue a strategy of dialogue to win independence from Spain.

A repeat of the northeast region's chaotic unilateral secession bid of 2017 now appears unlikely, at least in the short term.

Aragones, who won 74 votes in the 135-seat regional assembly, has promised a progressive agenda on social issues but his main political challenge will be to bridge the divisions among separatist parties.

His Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party and the centre-right Junts on Wednesday agreed to renew their coalition, ending a long stalemate after an inconclusive regional election in February.

During the two-day plenary session that followed, Aragones, 38, urged the Spanish government to allow a binding legal referendum, citing the example of Scotland's 2014 vote on independence and its recent push to be granted a new one.

Aragones said he was "obsessed" with overcoming the current political stalemate on the issue by resuming dialogue with the central government.

Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who opposes secession, congratulated Aragones and vowed to work together on COVID-19 vaccination, economic recovery and seeking reconciliation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

"Let's make it possible," he tweeted.

Sanchez opened talks on Catalonia's political conflict last year in exchange for Esquerra's support in the national parliament, where it enabled his confirmation as premier in early 2020.

Talks between Madrid and Catalonia are expected to resume shortly.

The two coalition parties have ruled Catalonia since 2016, but previously Junts held the presidency for most of the period. The last time Esquerra held that post was in the 1930s.

Esquerra and Junts finished second and third in February's vote, narrowly won by the Socialist Party, which opposes independence and failed to gain a majority in the parliament.

(Reporting by Joan Faus, editing by Inti Landauro and Angus MacSwan)

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