Carles Puigdemont could be re-elected as Catalonia's president

Dismissed Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras arrives to Spain

The main separatist parties of Catalonia have reached a preliminary agreement to reelect Carles Puigdemont as leader of the restive Spanish region, even as he remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium, the Catalan news media reported Wednesday. But the separatists will still struggle to form a coalition government, in large part because eight of their 70 elected lawmakers are either in jail in Madrid or with Puigdemont in Belgium to avoid prosecution in Spain.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ordered the December 21 regional election under constitutional powers he invoked in October to dissolve the previous parliament after separatist lawmakers voted to declare Catalonia an independent republic.

Former Catalan president Artur Mas gestures during a news conference to resign as PDeCat party president in Barcelona, Spain January 9, 2018.

That vote was called after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on the region in October in an attempt to quell. The move backfired when independence parties across the political spectrum won a narrow majority in the assembly.

However, it is unclear how Mr Puigdemont would lead the regional government from Brussels as he could be arrested if he returns to Spain.

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Pro independence parties Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) (Republican Left of Catalonia) said on Wednesday (10 January) they would support Puigdemont's return to the top job. Puigdemont became the independence movement's leader but is now a fugitive in Belgium.

He faces charges of sedition, rebellion, disobedience and misuse of public funds in Spain in the wake of the independence referendum on October 1st and the unilateral declaration of independence in the region on October 27th. The Spanish leader has also described as "absurd" the idea that Puigdemont could lead Catalonia from overseas.

While the anti-secession Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes of any single party, the prime minister's hope that the separatists would suffer a stinging rebuke at the polls went unfulfilled.

The other main potential candidate to represent the pro-independence parties would be ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a custodial sentence in a Madrid jail.

The Catalan Parliament's lawyers are set to examine proposals for Mr Puigdemont to read his address via videolink from overseas or have another MP read the speech, according to Spanish media reports.

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