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Catalan parliament calls for Spanish judge to be charged over jailed politician

MADRID (Reuters) - Catalonia's parliament called on Friday for legal charges to be brought against a Spanish Supreme Court judge for refusing to release a jailed pro-independence politician who had hoped to be elected its regional leader.

The complaint was the latest broadside in a tussle between Barcelona and the central government, which imposed direct rule of the wealthy northeastern region after its government declared independence from the rest of Spain last October.

Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena thwarted an attempt this week by the Catalan parliament to nominate as its leader Jordi Sanchez, a long-time independence activist who is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of rebellion.

A board of representatives from the parliament agreed to accuse Llarena of knowingly making an unjust ruling - one which regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent has described a "rights violation".

The decision was opposed by unionist forces within the assembly, including liberal party Ciudadanos, which became the single biggest group in elections in December, but fell short of the secessionist coalition's narrow majority.

Since the vote, pro-independence politicians have been unable to choose a new leader.

Former leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium in November, avoiding a court appearance to answer charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds relating to the secession push.

Sanchez has appealed to be released from jail to receive the mandate, but Llarena refused, saying there was a risk he might repeat the same offence.

Central government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said on Friday that spending money on trying to bring charges against Llarena might constitute a misuse of public funds, and the Catalan parliament's own lawyers had warned against it.

"It would be good if the parliament adhered to what the lawyers said," Mendez de Vigo told a news conference in Madrid. "Don't let them say afterwards that they didn't know what the consequences were, because they have been warned."

If no regional leader is elected by May 22, Catalans will be called to new elections.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Inmaculada Sanz; Editing by Paul Day/Mark Heinrich)

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