Catalonia's embattled, outgoing leader vows to struggle on

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Barcelona (AFP)

Catalonia's outgoing separatist president Artur Mas, whose months-long bid to be re-appointed as head of the Spanish region appeared to have been thwarted at the weekend, said Monday he would not give up.

The region's secessionist faction, which won September parliamentary polls, has been riven by in-fighting ever since due to a small, far-left separatist party that consistently refuses to give Mas the backing he needs to head up Catalonia again -- a deadlock that could lead to fresh elections.

"I'm very relaxed and I want to fight, to forge ahead," Mas said a day after the CUP party announced once and for all that it would not back him as president, as the January 9 deadline to form a government approaches dangerously close.

Mas's "Together for Yes" secessionist alliance -- helped by the CUP -- won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament in a September election in the wealthy, 7.5-million-strong northeastern region.

In November, they approved a resolution calling for the creation of an independent Catalan republic within 18 months, laying down a major challenge to the central government in Madrid.

But the honeymoon was short-lived as "Together for Yes", which won 62 seats, battled with the CUP to form a government.

Mas's coalition needs the backing of the CUP, which got 10 seats.

And after more than three months of negotiations, it failed to get the support of the CUP, which resents austerity measures implemented by Mas in recent years and his CDC party's links to corruption scandals.

The far-left party said it could back another candidate, but Mas's party has ruled that possibility out.

"Our candidate is President Mas," said Josep Rull of the CDC.

"We are convinced it's viable, we must forge ahead."

As the January 9 deadline approaches, the only option that remains for the "Together for Yes" coalition is to convince a few CUP lawmakers to break rank and support them.

If they fail to do so, parliament will be dissolved on Sunday and Mas will have no option but to call yet more elections -- the fourth in the region in just over five years.