Exiled separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has stunned Spain with private remarks picked up by TV news cameras in which he said Catalonia's independence bid is "finished."
The shock admission came after Spain's constitutional court ruled that Puigdemont could not be named president because he faced arrest and was not physically present to assume the presidency.
"The [independence] process is finished. I've been sacrificed," Puigdemont wrote in a text message to a close confidant after the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, suspended a Tuesday session in which secessionists holding a majority of seats planned to nominate him.
Spain's vice president, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, called on Torrent to look for another candidate to replace Puigdemont.
"Mr. Torrent has to open a new round of contacts to save the situation generated by Puigdemont," she said.
A Telecinco news station reporter caught on camera Puigdemont's message, which had been sent to the cellphone of Toni Comin, a close aide also in exile. The station had been filming a Brussels meeting that Puigdemont had been scheduled to attend.
Puigdemont may have been excusing his absence to Comin, who organized the conference in which Puigdemont was expected to reaffirm his bid to continue as president, sources in the independence movement told VOA.
In an earlier statement to reporters Tuesday, Puigdemont said he would continue to work to remain president. Puigdemont's first name, Carles, was clearly visible on the cellphone screenshots taken by Telecinco.
"La Moncloa's [Spain's presidential palace] plan has triumphed. I hope it's true and that it means everyone in prison will be released. Otherwise, it would be a historical farce," Puigdemont said. Some analysts say the comments could indicate some kind of plea-bargaining deal with the Spanish government.
When Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on Catalonia following the regional government's declaration of independence last November, most members of Puigdemont's Cabinet were arrested, while he fled to exile. Three of them, including his vice president Oriol Junqueras, remain in jail.
Spokesmen for Junqueras' independence group, the Catalan leftist Republican party, have said that Puigdemont could be sacrificed so a new government could be formed. Claims by Puigdemont and his supporters that he could lead "telematically" by Skype have been ridiculed throughout Spain's political spectrum.
"Puigdemont's farce is finished," tweeted Prime Minister Rajoy's ruling PP party.
Puigdemont's center-right rival for Catalonia's presidency, Ines Arrimadas, said the independence movement was "broken."
"They have to face the truth," Arrimadas said. "If they name someone else who violates the law, the same thing is going to happen."
Comin said the "pro-government bloc should have no illusions about divisions among supporters of independence."
Four separatist lawmakers from the radical Catalan Unity Candidacy, or CUP, refused to leave the parliamentary chamber when Tuesday's session was suspended. About 500 violent protesters, organized by the party's Catalan republic defense committees, tried to storm the parliament building from a tent city erected in a nearby park. They overran police barricades and chased away officers who took refuge in the building.
The crowd jeered and insulted members of the Catalan parliament as they emerged from the session, calling Torrent a "traitor." Twenty-seven Catalan police officers were injured in the clashes, according to press reports.
"We go back to seeing the last days of a Catalan republic," Puigdemont texted Comin in an apparent reference to a previous attempt to set up an independent Catalan state at the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
While Puigdemont excused his comments as being the result of a momentary irritation, he did not seem to see many political prospects.
"My future is likely to be more judicial than political," he wrote Comin. "I will have to dedicate my life to my legal defense."