Separatist parties in Spain's Catalonia have won regional elections. The regional president’s party, however, fell short of gaining an absolute majority needed to back a plan for a referendum on independence.
Voters handed almost two thirds of the 135-seat local parliament on Sunday to four different Catalan separatist parties that all want to hold a referendum on secession from Spain.
But the main separatist group, regional President Artur Mas's Convergence and Union alliance (CiU) lost seats - falling from 62 to 50. These results will make it difficult for Mas to lead a united drive to hold a referendum in defiance of the constitution and the central government in Madrid.
Mas, surrounded by supporters chanting "independence, independence", said he would still try to carry out the referendum but added that, "it is more complex, but there is no need to give up on the process."
Traditional separatists, the Republican Left, or ERC, won the second biggest presence in the Catalan parliament, with 21 seats. The Socialists took 20 seats and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's center-right People's Party (PP) won 19 seats.
"Mas clearly made a mistake. He promoted a separatist agenda and the people have told him they want other people to carry out his agenda," said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations' Madrid office.
Some Catalans believe that in Spain's current economic situation - with around 25 percent unemployment - too much of the region's tax money is going to the central government in Madrid to be redistributed to other areas of Spain.
Catalonia, a region of 7.6 million people, roughly the size of Belgium, has Spain's second-largest city, Barcelona, as its capital. It borders France in the northeast part of Spain.
hc/jm (Reuters, dpa)