Catalonia election: Puigdemont hails 'defeat' for Spanish state

Catalonia election: Puigdemont hails 'defeat' for Spanish state

As it stands, Puigdemont and the seven other newly reelected Catalan lawmakers who are either in jail or self-imposed exile can take their seats in the regional parliament without being physically present (a date for the first parliamentary session will be decided in late January). The recipe that Rajoy sold in Europe has failed. He said the election results do not affect the decision on whether or not to release them.

The Spanish government is meeting on Friday morning to discuss the fallout.

Rajoy told reporters Friday he is open to talks with whoever forms the next Catalan Cabinet, but said he expects the new regional government to back down from plans for further confrontation.

After Catalonia formally declared independence from Spain in October, Madrid quickly responded by imposing direct rule over the region and instigating new elections on December 21.

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In the pro-secession bloc, former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont's JuntsxCat, or Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), secured 34 seats with 21.68 percent of the votes.

The victory, albeit by a slim margin, will likely give fresh momentum to the push to break away from Spain, although separatists did lose support compared to the last vote in 2015, and a pro-unity party for the first time became the biggest single bloc in the Catalan parliament.

Thursday's election saw a record turnout of almost 82% of the 5.5 million eligible voters in Catalonia.

Rajoy, who called the snap election in October in an attempt to end the political crisis in the wake of Catalonia's referendum, is unlikely to be pleased with the results.

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Rajoy's conservative Popular Party had a bad night Thursday, dropping from 11 seats in the 135-seat chamber to just three.

"I hope the new [regional] government abandons the unilateral [path to secession] and doesn't place itself outside the law", he said in a press conference at La Moncloa government complex in Madrid.

This was an apparent reference to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, also known as the "nuclear option". Spanish police cracked down on the vote, using what rights groups called excessive force. "Mariano Rajoy has received a slap in the face from Catalonia". It is home to 7.5 million people, accounting for 15 percent of Spain's population and 20 percent of its economic output.

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