Catalonia's separatists on Saturday struck a last-minute agreement to form a new regional government that will work towards independence from Spain, with controversial secessionist leader Artur Mas stepping aside to seal the deal.link.
His decision brings an end to more than three months of deadlock between Mas' "Together for Yes" secessionist alliance and the more radical, far-left separatist CUP party that together hold a majority in the Catalan parliament.
"This is not an easy decision, but it is a coherent decision," Mas told a press conference, saying he did what was necessary to save the independence drive in the wealthy northeast region of 7.5 million.
"I am stepping aside and will not be standing as a Together for Yes candidate for the re-election of president of the regional government," Mas said, naming Girona mayor Carles Puigdemont as his replacement.
Together for Yes won 62 seats in the 135-seat parliament in regional elections in September -- but were unable to form a government with the CUP, which held a crucial extra 10 seats, due to bitter disagreement over Mas.
The leftist party refused to give Mas its backing, resenting the austerity measures he implemented and corruption scandals linked to his party.