Carles Puigdemont sent text messages to a colleague in which he appeared to acknowledge his push for independence was “finished”, after the Catalan parliament postponed Tuesday’s inauguration amid a legal battle over the return of the fugitive leader.
In the series of messages, sent to Toni Comin, a former cabinet member, on Tuesday night and published by Spanish network Telecinco on Wednesday, Mr Puigdemont said: “We are again living the last days of the Catalan Republic”, and lamented that the government in Madrid had “triumphed”.
"I suppose you are clear that this is finished, they have sacrificed us, at least me,” he wrote, in an apparent reference to allies in the independence bloc.
Mr Puigdemont’s statements were seized upon by opponents as the death knell of the Catalan independence drive, even as he scrambled to repair the damage and Mr Comin threatened legal action over the explosive leak.
“Puigdemont himself has recognised that the efforts of La Moncloa have triumphed,” said Xavier Garcia Albiol, the leader of Mr Rajoy’s Popular Party in Catalonia.
Miguel Iceta, leader of the Catalan socialists, told the network La Sexta that Mr Puigdemont was “starting to become aware of the reality” and suggested he would renounce the presidency “in the coming days”.
But in a tweet from his self-imposed exile in Belgium, Mr Puigdemont insisted otherwise. “I am human and there are times that I also doubt. I am also the President and I will not shrink or backtrack, because of respect, thanks and commitment to the citizens and the country. We continue!”
Sóc periodista i sempre he entès que hi ha límits, com la privacitat, que mai s’han de violar. Sóc humà i hi ha moments que també jo dubto. També sóc el President i no m’arronsaré ni em faré enrere, per respecte, agraïment i compromís amb els ciutadans i el país. Seguim!
— Carles Puigdemont 🎗 (@KRLS) January 31, 2018
Mr Puigdemont also hit out at the publication of the messages, which appear to have been filmed by a television camera trained on the screen of Mr Comin’s phone at an event in Belgium. A furious Mr Comin insisted they had been taken out of context, as his lawyer said legal action would be taken in both Spain and Belgium.
“The disclosure of secrets (obtaining third party conversations surreptitiously) is a crime in Spain and Belgium,” Mr Comin said, adding that in isolation such messages “always lose their meaning”.
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The leak came as the legal showdown over Mr Puigdemont’s inauguration left the formation of a new government in limbo. In a controversial ruling, Spain’s Constitutional Court on Saturday blocked the proposed long distance inauguration for the fugitive leader, who faces arrest on sedition and rebellion charges if he returns to the country.
On Tuesday, just hours before the inauguration was due to take place, Roger Torrent, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, postponed the session until Mr Puigdemont could be invested “with guarantees”.
But the Constitutional Court has already rejected an appeal by Mr Puigdemont’s party, and it is unclear how the impasse will be resolved. There are increasing signs of pressure on the presidential nominee to stand aside for the good of the broader independence movement and to allow for the restitution the government in Catalonia, which will remain under direct rule until a leader is in place.
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Mr Comin told opponents of independence not to “delude themselves” over divisions between secessionist parties, insisting that the bloc was committed to implementing the results of the December 21 elections.
The Esquerra Republicana (ERC), coalition partner to Mr Puigdemont’s Junts Per Catalunya and the party of Mr Torrent, publicly threw its weight behind the embattled leader. But it defended the postponement of the inauguration in the face of its ally’s protests.
Ernest Maragall, a senior ERC parliamentarian, said if it had gone ahead, "today we would be talking about an annulled president and new criminal offences against the speaker’s committee. We were about to fall into the State’s trap".