New Catalonia president Quim Torra on Saturday named two former ministers, jailed by Madrid for backing independence from Spain, together with two others who fled into exile, to his regional government.
Torra appointed his government by decree but it could still be blocked by Spain, which has insisted his administration be “legal and viable” after it imposed direct rule on the region in October when the then Catalan government declared independence.
Torra named 13 “advisors” to his government, including Jordi Turull and Josep Rull, who are currently being held in custody just outside Madrid.
Two others, Toni Comin and Lluis Puig, are in exile in Belgium, where they fled with deposed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
Turull and Rull both accepted their nominations on Twitter.
Torra was elected by the Catalan parliament on Monday and sworn in Thursday, in a move that marks the end of nearly seven months of political limbo in the northeastern Spanish region, which has been under direct rule from Madrid since the central government deposed Puigdemont following a failed declaration of independence on October 27.
Torra, a 55-year-old editor who has long campaigned for independence, described himself as a “caretaker president” as he awaits the return of Puigdemont, whom he considers the “legitimate” leader.
In a brief swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Torra promised to “loyally fulfil the duties of the post of regional president being faithful to the will of the Catalan people represented by the Catalan parliament.” But he did not promise to obey the Spanish Constitution nor the statute that regulates Catalonia’s autonomy.
He appeared flanked only by a Catalan flag, without the traditional Spanish flag and portrait of the king that protocol states must be present, in a small side-room of the regional government building in Barcelona.
The Spanish government criticised Torra’s choices as a “new provocation” given that “some of them are on the run from justice or in detention”.
A government statement said Madrid “will analyse the viability” of Torra’s team — a sign the capital will delay formalising their appointment.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis criticised the ceremony, saying it was done “on the sly”, as if Torra “were a second-rate president”. And on Friday, government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo had warned that “an advisor or minister cannot exercise their duties as such while they are in prison.”
But Torra had written to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, requesting a meeting “without any conditions” in a gesture that observers could herald as an easing of tensions between Madrid and the separatists.
Puigdemont, who first fled to Belgium, was detained in Germany in March after Spain issued a European arrest warrant against him. Madrid wants him extradited to Spain to try him on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for staging an independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1 even though the courts had ruled it unconstitutional.
A German court last month dismissed the extradition request for Puigdemont on the rebellion allegations and released him on bail.
Spanish prosecutors have since handed over new information to Germany they hope will prove the use of violence, to justify the rebellion charge and their extradition request.