BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Former Catalan president Artur Mas announced Tuesday he is resigning as head of his regional pro-independence party, saying he wants to clear the way for a new generation of leaders pushing for secession from Spain.
Pro-independence parties including Mas' PdeCat won the most seats — 70 out of 135 — in the Catalan parliamentary election in December. Mas said that result was "very good" and brought a new phase in the secession drive.
"(We need to ) clear the way for new people to lead a project for the future" in Catalonia, Mas, 61, told a news conference.
Mas was Catalan president between 2010 and 2016 before stepping aside, handpicking Carles Puigdemont as his successor. Puigdemont became the independence movement's leader but is currently a fugitive in Belgium.
Differences between the two have grown since Puigdemont led separatist lawmakers in unilaterally declaring Catalan independence from Spain on Oct. 27. Spain responded by sacking Puigdemont and his government, dissolved the local parliament and called a new election Dec. 21.
Puigdemont fled to Brussels to avoid a judicial investigation into suspicions of rebellion by him and his Catalan government for pressing ahead with the independence bid. However, Puigdemont is demanding to be re-instated as Catalan president and continuing with his independence drive after his strong election showing.
Mas has argued that the secessionists need to win broader support before moving on with the secession effort.
Mas also cited legal reasons for his decision to quit.
Mas was last year banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying Spain's Constitutional Court by holding a mock Catalan independence referendum in 2014. His party and its members are also bracing for court rulings later this month into corruption allegations.