Separatist parties win Catalonia election in Spain
By Fiona Ortiz and Braden Phillips
BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - Separatists in Catalonia won a large majority in regional elections but a poor result for the biggest Catalan nationalist party will complicate a push for a referendum on independence from Spain.
A deep recession and high unemployment have fuelled separatism in wealthy Catalonia, piling political uncertainty on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he fights a debt crisis that could force Spain to seek an international bailout.
Flying pro-independence flags - a lone star against yellow and red stripes - Catalan voters on Sunday handed 87 seats, almost two-thirds of the local parliament, to four different parties that want a referendum on secession.
But voters also punished the movement's figurehead, Catalan President Artur Mas. His Convergence and Union, or CiU, remains the biggest party in the local parliament, but it lost 12 seats and Mas said he will have to ally with another party to govern.
Mas tried to ride the separatist wave after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in September, demanding independence for Catalonia, a northeastern region with its own language that sees itself as distinct from the rest of Spain.
But Mas only recently backed Catalan independence, and while he stirred up enthusiasm for the idea, in the end he drove voters into the arms of parties seen as more genuinely representative of the separatist cause.
"Mas was hurt... The pro-independence movement is more distributed among different parties now, but the issue is important enough so that I think they will do everything to stay united," said Oriol Vilaseca, 38, who works for a family business and who voted for CiU.
With a population of 7.5 million people, export powerhouse Catalonia has an economy almost as big as Portugal. But it is labouring under a load of debt and Catalans think too much of their taxes go to the rest of Spain. Continued...