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Spanish separatist parties make gains

BARCELONA — Voters in Catalonia delivered victory to separatist parties in a regional election Sunday, raising the likelihood that Spain’s most powerful economic region will hold an independence referendum that Madrid has vowed to block.

But even as voters set up a fight with the central government by rewarding the independence cause, they delivered no clear message about who should lead it. Convergencia i Unio, the party of Artur Mas, the Catalan president who called the election two years ahead of schedule, actually lost seats in the regional Parliament. The party fell to just 50 seats in the 135-seat body, from 62 in the last vote.

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As a result, before holding any referendum on independence, Mas will first have to strike alliances with smaller parties that share his separatist goal, but not his economic and social agenda.

Indeed, despite the enthusiasm that the separatist drive has generated in Catalonia, Sunday’s vote also underlined divisions among the region’s 7.5 million citizens. In particular, there are questions over whether sovereignty demands should be limited to seeking fiscal concessions from Madrid or stretch far beyond that.

One of the biggest benefactors on Sunday was the left-leaning Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party, which has long pushed for independence. That party came in second, bringing its parliamentary representation to 21 seats.

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