Catalans vote in symbolic referendum on independence

Pro-independence activists in Catalonia have organised this Sunday a legally non-binding referendum asking 700,000 local eligible voters if they would like their wealthy region to secede from Spain.


AFP - Polls opened Sunday in symbolic referendums in parts of Catalonia on whether the wealthy northeastern region should become independent from Spain.

Some 700,000 people, including many of the region's large immigrant population, are eligibile to cast ballots -- about 10 percent of the region's population of more than seven million.

They are being asked: "Do you agree that Catalonia becomes a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?"

Polls opened at 9 am (0800 GMT) at a total of 564 polling stations in 166 towns and villages, and were scheduled to close at 8 pm (1900GMT).

Organisers are hoping for a turnout of at least 40 percent.

A sizeable minority in Catalonia would like to see the northeastern region, which accounts for 25 percent of Spain's gross domestic product and which has its own Catalan language, achieve independence from Spain.

In a referendum last September in the small town of Arenys de Munt, 96 percent of residents voted in favour of secession. Turnout was 41 percent.

Sunday's vote also comes as Spain's Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the legality of the region's statute of autonomy, with fears that a negative decision could fuel further separatist sentiment.

The statute, approved by the Spanish parliament and endorsed by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum, expanded the powers of the regional government, which, like other Spanish regions, already controlled most aspects of government.

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