The parliament in Spain’s Catalonia region is set to meet for the first time Wednesday since the country’s central government dissolved the body and ordered new elections in response to an independence referendum.
Pro-independence parties together have a narrow majority in the new body, but lawmakers will need to form a government and pick their leadership.
Ahead of Wednesday’s session, two separatist parties reached an agreement to support former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont as a candidate to again take that role.
Puigdemont led the push for the referendum on Catalonia seceding from Spain, which was supported by the majority of people who voted. After the government in Madrid dissolved the parliament and suspended the region’s autonomy, Puigdemont fled to Brussels. He faces arrest if he returns to Spain.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, says Puigdemont cannot act as Catalan president while in exile, and that if he is chosen then the suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy will remain in effect.
Other leaders of the independence movement remain in exile or in prison within Spain.
On Tuesday night, thousands of protesters rallied in Barcelona calling for the release of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixar, two leaders of Catalan civic organizations who are being held on sedition charges.