Catalan parliament votes in new regional leader who plans to continue secession drive

MADRID -- Catalonia's parliament voted in a new leader for the powerful northeastern region late Sunday after hearing he would forge ahead with a drive to secede from Spain.

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During a pre-vote debate, Carles Puigdemont said he would continue with his predecessor Artur Mas' initiative to push the region bordering France toward independence by 2017.

Puigdemont was voted in as Catalonia's 130th president in a 70-63 vote, with two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber.

Puigdemont was selected Saturday to replace Mas as the "Together for Yes" alliance's candidate for leader, a decision that earned him the backing of the radical, anti-capitalist CUP party whose 10 seats were needed for a majority in the chamber.

The CUP refused to back Mas in his bid to retain the presidency.

The Spanish government considers the secessionist initiative to be unconstitutional and has used the judiciary to challenge it.

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party won the most votes in a Dec. 20 ballot but has so far failed to get a majority in parliament, said late Sunday that Spain wouldn't allow Catalan leaders to "grant themselves unlimited powers."

With the debate in the Catalan parliament still ongoing, Rajoy spoke on nationwide televison to say he had contacted most of Spain's main political parties and agreed with their leaders that secessionism wouldn't be tolerated.

"We have known how to set aside our differences to defend the unity of the nation," Rajoy said.

Rajoy said Spain's courts had already ruled against Catalonia's pro-independence move, declaring it unlawful.

"I want to make it clear that the Spaniards can be calm," Rajoy said.


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