Spain's Catalonia calls early election on eve of amnesty vote

Catalonia's regional President Pere Aragones gives a news conference in Barcelona

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) -Spain's Catalonia region will hold an early election on May 12 after the regional parliament rejected the separatist minority government's budget proposal, Catalan government head Pere Aragones said on Wednesday.

The snap election for 135 members of the regional parliament could have implications for national politics as Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez relies on Catalan separatist parties Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and Junts to pass legislation.

Catalan separatism has been a dominant theme in Spanish politics in the past decade.

The election had originally been scheduled for February 2025 at the end of the current legislative term.

"On May 12, Catalan citizens will choose between responsibility or irresponsibility," Aragones, who leads an ERC minority government, said in a televised address, calling the parties that opposed his budget proposal earlier on Wednesday "irresponsible".

The bill had the backing of Catalonia's Socialist Party but was rejected by the rest of the opposition.

The election announcement came on the eve of a lower house vote in Madrid on an amnesty bill for pro-independence activists and officials involved in Catalonia's separatist bid in the last decade. The bill is widely expected to be approved.

The most high-profile beneficiary of the amnesty is expected to be Junts' leader Carles Puigdemont who was Catalonia's leader in 2017 when the region unilaterally declared independence. He later fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution and has been living in self-imposed exile there since.

Junts' officials had previously said they wanted Puigdemont to run in 2025. His participation could be problematic as the amnesty bill is unlikely to be enacted by May.

While stopping short of confirming whether Puigdemont would run, Junts Secretary General Jordi Turull said on Wednesday Puigdemont would be able to be in Catalonia without the risk of being arrested by the time its next leader is sworn in.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; editing by Andrei Khalip and Cynthia Osterman)