Catalans vote in more symbolic independence referendums

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A fresh round of symbolic referendums were held on Sunday in 44 towns and villages in Catalonia on whether the wealthy region should secede from Spain.

As of 2 pm (1200 GMT) some 55,000 people had cast ballots out of the roughly half million who were eligible to vote in the referendums, which have no legal significance, organisers said.

The referendums are organised by local associations that back separatism for Catalonia, which has a population of seven million and already enjoys considerable autonomy, and they are supported by some political parties.

They staged two other waves of similar referendums in December and in April in which the vast majority voted in favour of seceding from Spain but in which the turnout was less than 30 percent of eligible voters.

Separatists are much more likely to take part in the polls, which have been held mostly in areas of strong support for secession. Organisers hope they will bolster the case for a region-wide vote on separation in the future.

Earlier this month Catalonia's regional parliament approved the launch of a petition calling for a referendum on whether Catalonia should become an independent state within the European Union.

If organisers manage to collect the signatures of 220,00 eligible voters, the Catalan regional parliament will have to debate the demand to have such a referendum.

But Spain's central government argues that under the constitution only it has the authority to call a referendum.

In 2008 it blocked a bid by the regional government of the northern Basque Country to hold its own referendum on separation from Spain.

Separatist parties won 14 percent of the vote in the last elections to the Catalan regional parliament in 2006.

© 2010 AFP

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