Pro-independence demonstrators of Catalonia and Basque Country celebrate in Pamplona
About 1.6 million people in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia voted Sunday in favor of breaking away from the country and carving out a new Mediterranean nation in a mock independence poll, but more Catalans stayed away either because of the poll's questionable legality or their opposition to secession.
Results released early Monday with 88 percent of votes counted showed that over two million people voted and 1.6 million favored forming a new nation that would be separated from the European Union and forced to reapply for membership. But 5.4 million were eligible to vote, meaning many did not bother to participate amid worries about the vote's lack of legal guarantees and its nonbinding status.
Catalan lawmakers opted for the watered-down poll after plans to hold an official referendum on independence were suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court amid the central government's challenge that the referendum was unconstitutional. The court then suspended the mock vote on the same grounds Tuesday.
The regional government defied the suspension, manning polling stations with 40,000 volunteers.
"Despite the enormous impediments, we have been able to get out the ballot boxes and vote," Catalan president Artur Mas said after depositing his ballot at a school in Barcelona.
Polls in recent years say the majority of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants want an official vote on independence, while around half support cutting centuries-old ties with Spain.
Sunday's mock vote was the latest massive pro-independence demonstration in the wealthy region fiercely proud of its own traditions and language. It came two months after Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom.
Mas has said the vote was only symbolic. It likely will lead to regional elections that would stand in for a referendum on independence, unless the Spanish government relents.
"We ask the world to help us convince the Spanish institutions that Catalonia deserves to vote a referendum to decide its future," Mas said.
There was a festive atmosphere as hundreds lined up in front of another school in Barcelona under overcast skies, with some wearing pro-independence regalia.
"I voted for independence because I've always felt very Catalan," said Nuria Silvestre, a 44-year-old teacher. "Maybe I wasn't so radical before, but the fact that they are prohibiting (the vote) from Madrid has made me."
Spanish state prosecutors said they were continuing an investigation to determine if by holding the informal vote the Catalan government had broken the law.
Justice Minister Rafael Catala called the vote "an act of propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and lacking any democratic validity."
The region's secessionist camp has grown during Spain's economic downturn, with the Spanish government's repeated denials to grant Catalonia control over its financial future.
Tags: CATALONIA, EUROPE, SPAIN, US & World, VOTE, WORLD