CARLES Puigdemont fled Catalonia to avoid being arrested over the October 2017 parliamentary declaration of independence there and went into exile in Belgium.

From his new home in Waterloo, he subsequently became a Member of the European Parliament, along with his former ministers Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin.

Now the former Catalan president has announced that he will run in the election there on February 14, which was called after Quim Torra, his ally and replacement as president, was ousted by Spanish authorities in September, over the yellow-ribbon saga.

Torra had defied court orders to remove from public buildings the symbols of support for Catalan political prisoners during the Spanish general election.

Puigdemont has said that he will not be his Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party’s main candidate in the forthcoming poll.

He faces arrest should he try to re-enter Spain because of an outstanding warrant and MEPs will next week discuss a bid by Spain to have his immunity as an MEP waived.

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The former president did not reveal if he could still be JxCat’s first choice candidate on the electoral list – which is usually the presidential pick.

However, Puigdemont did say the independence movement had to “retake” the path started with the 2017 election which saw two million people vote for a Catalan republic.

He said on social media: “We have to finish the job, but this will only be possible if the movement is able to procure a strong government.”

JxCat had to remain strong, he said, adding that while he would lead the campaign he would not be its front-runner.

This means that party members will have to choose a lead candidate in a vote at the end of this month.

Puigdemont’s last attempt at the presidency was in early 2018 when he was JxCat’s candidate in exile, but this was quashed by Spain’s electoral authorities and the heavily politicised Constitutional Court.

The judiciary barred him, saying he had to appear personally to become parliament’s presidential choice and well aware of an outstanding arrest warrant for him.

Puigdemont is now settled in the European Parliament along with Comin and Ponsati, but even there they are being chased by Spanish authorities.

Their parliamentary immunity from prosecution is being challenged by Spain and will be discussed remotely at the beginning of next week when the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs is due to hear the beginning of the procedure.

This is the first time the committee has considered the matter after months of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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In a radio interview yesterday, Ponsati said: “We do not know what will happen.

“We have doubts about whether our rights will be respected, because it is behind closed doors.

“We know who has a majority in that parliament. We cannot rule out a vote against us.”

The University of St Andrews academic and former Catalan education minister was also critical of the lack of action from the independence lobby there following the October 2017 referendum, known as 1-O.

She said politics is “not moving in the direction continuing with what we started in the 1-O”, despite popular indy support.

“Catalonia’s independence process is more alive than ever among the citizens,” she said.

Ponsati has also co-written a new book, published by Luath Press in Edinburgh.

In The Case of the Catalans: Why so many Catalans no longer want to be part of Spain, she and six other Catalan academics write in English, reviewing the evolution of the Catalan conflict, taking into account its historical background, along with its politics, economics and legalities.