Catalonia begins voting in pivotal election

Catalonian voters go to polls

Catalan election latest: Carles Puigdemont says de facto independence vote is a chance for region to 'return to normality'

CATALONIA's breakaway parties are "on course for victory" in a knife-edge election to decide fate of Spanish region.

Protesters carry Esteladas, Catalan separatist flags, and Basque flags, during a rally in favour of a referendum on independence from Spain for the autonomous community of Catalonia, in the Basque city of Bilbao, Spain September 9, 2017. But neither side is likely to win a clear majority in the new regional parliament, setting up the scenario of long and challenging negotiations to form a new Catalan government.

The Madrid government stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and called the election after declaring an October independence referendum illegal.

Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party won 34 seats, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) came third with 32 and the far-left, anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) picked up four - a combined total for separatist parties of 70.

Polls suggest neither the pro-independence nor the pro-unity camp will win a majority.

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Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy called today's election early in the hope it will keep the separatists out of power.

Carles Puigdemont said: "It's not normal, an election that takes place with candidates in prison and candidates in exile".

But with a record turnout expected, the outcome could hinge on the more than one-fifth who are undecided among Catalonia's 5.5 million eligible voters. At the heart of the battle instead was the recent independence push that led to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

No incidents were reported during the election Thursday. Senior EU officials have backed Rajoy, and no EU country has offered support for the separatists.

Spain's central bank last week cut its national growth forecasts for next year and 2019 to 2.4 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, cutting a percentage point off its previous predictions and citing the conflict in Catalonia as the cause.

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