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Catalan separatists win majority in key election

Gerard Julien, AFP | Catalan voters in Barcelona wave pro-independence flags as polls close in a crucial regional election on Sunday, September 27.

Separatist parties won a majority of seats in Catalonia's regional parliament on Sunday, setting the region on a collision course with Spain's central government over independence.

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“Catalans have voted yes to independence,” acting Catalan regional government head Artur Mas told supporters in Barcelona.

With nearly 99 percent of the votes counted, the main secessionist group "Junts pel Si" (Together for Yes) won 62 seats in the 135-strong assembly, while smaller leftist party CUP won another 10 seats.

“An absolute majority was absolutely what they wanted in that Barcelona parliament, and they have four seats above that [so] they are comfortably beyond the magic number of 68,” FRANCE 24’s Sarah Morris reported from Spain’s capital Madrid on Monday morning.

But the two parties fell short of the symbolic 50 percent of the popular vote they were hoping to secure.

“The press here this morning are… looking at the results, and one of the things that they’re highlighting is the fact that they didn’t get a majority of votes, which was crucial to give this push for independence legitimacy,” Morris said.

More than 5.5 million of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants were eligible to vote at nearly 2,700 polling stations across the region. A record 78 percent turned out for the election.

FRANCE 24’s Sarah Morris reports from Madrid

Both parties had said they would declare independence within 18 months if they won a majority, under a plan that would see the new Catalan authorities approving their own constitution and building institutions like an army, central bank and judicial system.

Many Catalans who favour breaking away from Spain say their industrialised region, which represents nearly a fifth of Spain's economic output, pays too much in taxes and receives less than its fair share of government investment.

Secessionists have long pushed for an independence referendum, but Spain's central government refused to allow it. So the pro-independence parties pitched the vote for regional parliamentary seats as a de facto plebiscite.

Spain's government brands secession illegal and has called for the country to stay united as the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy recovers from recession.

Madrid says Catalonia would drop out of the European Union and eurozone if it broke away from Spain.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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