CATALONIA has held an unofficial referendum on independence as part of a campaign to move the issue up the political agenda.
While turnout was only 25 per cent, some 94 per cent of those voted backed independence.
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.
The residents were asked if Catalonia – which is Spain´s richest region – 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 accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s GDP, already enjoys autonomous status and has its own language Catalan.
Supporters hope that Sunday’s poll will be the first step towards a formal ballot for a separate state.
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.
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.
Joan Laporta, chairman of 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.”