By Joan Faus and Graham Keeley
BARCELONA (Reuters) -The head of Catalonia’s pro-independence government on Friday ruled out calling a snap election after its junior coalition partner pulled out, triggering the biggest crisis facing the Spanish region’s separatist movement in a decade.
Catalan leader Pere Aragones, from the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party, said he would announce a new government lineup in the next few days after junior partner Junts withdrew its support for the regional coalition.
The situation in Catalonia has wider ramifications because Esquerra supports Spain’s Socialist coalition government, which faces an election in 2023.
In an internal vote, 55.7% of members of the Junts party approved leaving the regional coalition government amid a dispute with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya spearheading the administration, Junts said in a statement.
“In these difficult and complex times the stability of governments is essential,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a news conference in Prague where he was attending a European Union summit.
“I back stability, in this case of the government of Catalonia.”
Aragones told a press conference in Barcelona on Friday it would be “irresponsible” to leave Catalonia without a government.
Laura Borras, president of Junts, said the Catalan leader “had lost democratic legitimacy”.
The separatists have been thrown into turmoil five years after a chaotic 2017 Catalonia bid for independence plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.
The heart of the dispute within the coalition has been about the pace of movement towards independence, an issue that divides moderates and hard-liners.
Esquerra favours a negotiation with Madrid to agree on a binding referendum and expanding Catalans’ support for leaving Spain. Around 52% of Catalans oppose independence and 41% back it, according to a June poll.
Junts, which led the wealthy northeastern region when its government embraced independence in 2012, backs a more aggressive approach – shunning talks with Madrid and potentially repeating the events of 2017.
Catalonia then held an independence referendum despite a ban by the courts and in the face of Madrid’s opposition, and later issued a short-lived independence declaration.
Several high-profile leaders were jailed for close to four years in connection with those events while others went into self-imposed exile.
Junts announced plans for an internal vote on staying in the government last week following the sacking by Catalonia’s leader of his deputy, who belongs to Junts, after the party proposed a parliamentary vote of confidence in the government.
(Reporting by Joan Faus, additional reporting Graham Keeley; Editing by Aislinn Laing, Paul Simao and Hugh Lawson)