MADRID (Reuters) - The push by Catalonia's leaders to break away from Spain took a knock on Wednesday as infighting over the secession issue escalated and one of the parties running the region said its ministers were stepping down.
Splits within Convergencia i Unio (CiU), the coalition governing the affluent region in Spain's far northeast, are threatening to undermine the separatist campaign.
A full-break up of CiU, formed by two parties which have worked together for 37 years, would also damage its leader, regional president Artur Mas, as he is staking his political future on the independence bid.
One of the CiU camps, UDC, has taken a more cautious approach to the secession question with some of its members expressing doubts about CiU's transformation into a starkly pro-separatist party.
Pushed by Mas to lay out whether or not they would sign up to a "roadmap" towards independence, UDC on Wednesday said that three of its ministers serving in the regional government were quitting as a result of this pressure.
"We've agreed ... to take a step back and leave the government of Catalonia," regional interior minister Ramon Espadaler told a news conference. He will be one of those stepping down.
It is not yet known whether CiU will run as one party or two in regional elections due on September 27, which Mas has built up as a proxy vote on independence.
The long-simmering secession movement swelled during a recession in recent years and led to mass demonstrations in favor of splitting from Spain, but has shown signs of fading in the past months.
CiU lost out in Barcelona's city hall election in May, a symbolic blow to the secession drive as a leftist coalition that is ambiguous on independence and led by social activist Ada Colau took power.
Reporting by Sarah White and Emma Pinedo, Editing by Mark Heinrich