Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who emerged as kingmaker after Spain's inconclusive July election, demanded an amnesty Tuesday for hundreds of activists facing legal action over the region's failed 2017 secession bid.
Puigdemont, 60, said the "complete abandonment of judicial proceedings" against Catalan separatists was essential for his JxCat party to back Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez for another term.
He headed Catalonia's regional government in 2017 that made a short-lived declaration of independence after a violence-marred referendum banned by Madrid.
He fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and now lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
Sanchez, who has sought to calm separatist tensions since he came to office five years ago, pardoned Catalan separatist leaders in 2021 after they were sentenced to long prison terms over the failed secession bid by the wealthy northeastern region.
But he has previously opposed an amnesty and his government has always said Puigdemont should stand trial in Spain.
Puigdemont said once the amnesty is granted, talks should begin between Catalonia's separatist regional government and Madrid to reach a "historic agreement" on the region, which has its own distinct language and culture.
"Is there a path other than independence to guarantee the survival of Catalonia as a nation? All the accumulated evidence over the decades has shown there is not," Puigdemont told reporters in Brussels as he outlined his conditions for backing Sanchez.
Puigdemont's party unexpectedly emerged as kingmaker following the July 23 national election that left a hung parliament.
The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) won the most seats but neither it nor Sanchez's Socialists emerged with a clear path to achieving the 176-seat majority needed to govern.
- 'Fugitive from justice' -
King Felipe VI has called on PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo to try to form a new government but he lacks enough support to win the parliamentary vote slated for September 27.
If he fails, as is widely expected, Sanchez will get a shot.
The Socialists and its left-wing allies Sumar can cobble together a working majority in parliament if they win the support of Catalan and Basque separatist parties, including Puigdemont's JxCat.
Puigdemont met with Yolanda Diaz, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the radical left Sumar alliance, on Monday in Brussels as part of efforts to secure support for a new Socialist-led government.
It was the first public meeting between top Spanish officials and Puigdemont since the failed independence bid.
Sanchez said Monday it was time to "turn the page" on "mistakes made in the past" regarding Catalonia, but his willingness to work with Catalan separatists has infuriated Spain's right.
Feijoo has said Sanchez "prefers to govern with a fugitive from justice" -- a reference to Puigdemont -- than to make a power-sharing alliance with his party.
"Who is in charge and who decides who will be the next prime minister? Puigdemont," Feijoo said derisively on Tuesday.
Puigdemont's JxCat struck a deal with Sanchez last month when it backed the Socialist party's candidate for parliamentary speaker in return for concessions that included the use of the Catalan language in the assembly.
If no candidate secures a majority within two months of the first investiture vote on September 27, new elections must be called -- which happened following polls in both 2015 and 2019.