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Polls close in Catalonia symbolic ballot on independence

 
 
 
 
 
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Polls have closed in Catalonia where people have held a symbolic independence vote despite the Spanish government’s opposition.

According to the regional Catalan government, almost two million people took part in the independence polls, which opened at 9 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) and closed at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Sunday.

The regional government had earlier said that 5.4 million Catalans and resident foreigners aged 16 and over were eligible to take part in the non-binding referendum.

The eligible voters were to answer two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state?” and “If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?”

The results of the vote are expected to be announced on Monday.

“Despite the enormous impediments, we have been able to get out the ballot boxes and vote,” Catalan President Artur Mas said after casting his ballot at the polling station in Barcelona.

Catalans living abroad, including in Argentina and Chile, also cast vote.

“We have a right to decide, at least for them to let us decide, that they not deny us that freedom of expression and, more than anything, express that feeling that isn’t just a political feeling but something from childhood… It’s a culture: we have our languages, our customs,” said a Catalan voter while casting his ballot in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

The government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, meanwhile, has pledged to defend the unity of the country, mounting a series of constitutional appeals in an attempt to block the referendum.

A “Yes” in the non-binding vote will not automatically lead to the secession of the region, but only gives the Catalan president the mandate to negotiate independence with the Spanish administration.

Catalonia moved towards greater autonomy in 2006 when it formally adopted a charter that assigned it the status of a “nation”. However, the nationhood claim was overruled by Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010.

Many Catalans believe their economy would be more prosperous on its own, complaining that a high portion of their taxes goes to the central government in Madrid.

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