Page last updated at 18:19 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Spain's Catalonia region in symbolic independence vote

A man shows his symbolic Catalan ID card as he votes in Vilafranca del Penede, Spain, 13 December
Voters have been displaying symbolic Catalan identity cards

The Spanish region of Catalonia has held an unofficial referendum on independence as part of a campaign to move the issue up the political agenda.

Some 94% of those who voted backed independence.

"The people of Catalonia have chosen to form an independent state," said Carlos Mora, mayor of a small town.

But the vote was condemned by critics. Only one in 10 of Catalonia's residents were invited to vote, and they were in known pro-independence regions.

Turnout was 25%.

The residents were asked if Catalonia should "become a social, democratic and independent state".

The outcome has no legal force, as any referendum in Spain must be mandated by the national government.

Catalonia, which includes the city of Barcelona, is Spain's richest region.

Accounting for 25% of the country's GDP, it has its own language, Catalan, and already enjoys autonomous status.

Supporters hope that Sunday's poll will be the first step towards a formal ballot for a separate state, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports.

Almost 170 Catalan towns and villages held ballots, staffed by thousands of volunteers.

Further referendums are being planned in other parts of the region, including Barcelona, Girona and Lleida, early next year.

'Fiscal pillaging'

Scottish National Party
Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru
Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein
Representatives from Italy's South Tyrol region, the French island of Corsica, Belgium's Flemish region and the Canadian province of Quebec
Representatives from Spain's Galicia and Basque regions
Source: AFP news agency

A statute on relations with the Spanish state which was approved by Catalans three years ago gave the region more local jurisdiction and what many believe is a fairer share of the revenue collected.

But Spain's main opposition party is contesting the statute in the Constitutional Court and many Catalans fear key provisions of the law will soon be overturned, our correspondent says.

Joan Laporta, chairman of the Barcelona football club, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that the vote was a reaction to central government pressure on the region.

"Catalonia is dying, they are killing it and we must react," he said.

"No Catalan can accept the fiscal pillaging that we are suffering nor the attacks on the rights and freedoms of Catalonia."

Teams of international observers from regions of the world with independence or secessionist movements are attending Sunday's vote, AFP news agency notes.

They include representatives of the Scottish National Party and the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, as well as others from Italy's South Tyrol region, the French island of Corsica, Belgium's Flemish region and the Canadian province of Quebec.

Political representatives of Spain's Galicia and Basque regions, which both have independence movements, are also observing the vote.

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