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Catalonia set to vote on Quim Torra as regional head

Catalonia’s parliament will vote within days on whether to accept Quim Torra to head the regional government and end months of political deadlock after Madrid ordered elections following a failed independence bid.

Mr Torra is a pro-independence ally of Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan leader who led the illegal secession attempt and is in Germany awaiting extradition to Spain.

Mr Torra has no pending legal action against him, meaning courts are unlikely to attempt to block his appointment as they have with previous candidates.

But critics said that he showed little sign of being a candidate who can heal wounds in the region — where less than half of people support independence, according to polls — or improve relations between Madrid and Barcelona.

Mr Torra is unlikely to win a first vote on Saturday, when an absolute majority will be required. He has more chance of winning a subsequent vote set for Monday, when only a relative majority would be needed.

The kingmakers in the parliament are set to be the six members of the far-left, pro-independence CUP party, who will meet at the weekend to decide how to vote. Pro-independence parties have 70 seats in the 135 seat chamber, but the CUP are likely at best to abstain and could block Mr Torra’s appointment if they vote against him.

“The CUP are divided . . . some think that Torra is too rightwing, even if he is pro independence,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University in Barcelona. “If they abstain, though, there will finally be a government in Catalonia.”

Until Catalonia forms a government, Madrid will retain administrative control over the region.

Mr Puigdemont’s government tried to declare independence last October after a referendum held without Madrid’s consent. Prime minister Mariano Rajoy responded by invoking constitutional powers to withdraw regional autonomy and call new elections, while prosecutors started legal proceedings against most of the regional government.

Pro-independence parties regained their majority after December’s election. But the candidates put forward to lead the region before Mr Torra have been blocked from doing so: courts have ruled that those in prison or abroad cannot be appointed.

Mr Torra, 55, is known as a diehard supporter of Catalan independence. The lawyer and journalist is a former head of Omnium Cultural, a grassroots separatist group, and author of several books on Catalan history.

He was behind a series of tweets from around 2010 to 2014 where he appeared to express open hostility to Spain and the Spanish. One read: “Obviously, we have been occupied by the Spaniards since 1714.” Another said: “Spaniards only know how to plunder.”

Referring to about Albert Rivera, the head of the anti-independence party Ciudadanos, one tweet said: “Listening to Mr Rivera speak of morality is like listening to the Spaniards talk about democracy.”

Inés Arrimadas, the head of the largest anti-independence party in Catalonia, said: “Puigdemont could not have chosen a more radical candidate”.

Mr Torra on Friday apologised. “If anyone has taken offence to my tweets, I apologise, I did not mean to offend anyone,” he told Catalan state television.

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