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Who is 'Catalan President' Carles Puigdemont?

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 02/10/2017

Standing inside the grand hall of the Palau de la Generalitat, the Catalan regional government's headquarters in the Spanish city of Barcelona, in early 2016, a 54-year-old bespectacled former journalist addressed a crowd of politicians and citizens.

Carles Puigdemont was just inaugurated the "Catalan President". Hanging on his neck was the gold medal of the government to symbolise his role as the 130th leader of the region.

With pro-independence flags fluttering inside and outside the hall, he declared, "We have come from far, but we are not tired. We are full of hope."

Catalonia referendum: As it happens

As two senior Spanish government officials from Madrid looked on, Puigdemont sounded defiant, vowing to consolidate support among the Catalans, in his uphill effort to establish an independent republic.

"Impossible is just an opinion."

On Sunday, as millions of Catalans head out to vote for a referendum, Puigdemont inches closer to his goal for his homeland, becoming the unlikely leader of a movement that started in a tiny town in the Catalan province of Girona.

"We are pretty confident about the future of Catalonia within the European Union. It is a yes-yes situation," he said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera's John Hendren recently.

Catalonia referendum: Who are the Catalans?

Puigdemont was born on December 29, 1962 in the Catalan region. At 16, he started working as a reporter for the local newspaper Diari de Girona.

At the University of Girona, Puigdemont studied Catalan philosophy. But he dropped out of university to become a full-time journalist.

After working for years for the now-defunct newspaper El Punt, he became its editor-in-chief in 1988, and also worked for the journal, Presencia. He also founded the English-language magazine, Catalonia Today.

In 2006, Puigdemont left his journalism job to join a Catalan electoral alliance, which later turned into a pro-independence movement. Because of his background in communication, he also helped establish the Catalan News Agency, a "digital native" mouthpiece for the Catalan movement. 

In 2011, he was elected mayor of Girona, the capital of the province of the same name. He was the first politician in 32 years to break the Socialist Party of Catalonia's dominance in the city. 

Puigdemont further burnished his political credentials among the Catalans by becoming chairman of the association of municipalities for independence, and was elected as a member of the regional parliament.

On January 10, 2016, he was elected president of Catalonia. He is the first Catalan president to not declare an oath of loyalty to the Spanish constitution and the current king, Felipe VI.

Amid criticism from the central government in Madrid for his role in the referendum, Puigdemont managed to push for the vote in the Catalan parliament. The voting has been declared as unconstitutional by the country's courts.

Still, Puigdemont and his supporters are defiant as he pushes for the region's second referendum on independence in three years.

The future of Catalonia continues to hang in a balance.

If that happens, Puigdemont, the college dropout who became Catalonia regional government's president, is well-positioned to lead his people.

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