Voters in Catalonia have been to the polls to elect a new regional government. Parties supporting Catalan independence from the rest of Spain were projected to win, according to exit polls.
Exit polls on Sunday evening indicated that the ruling Convergence and Union alliance, or CiU, would garner the most votes - meaning Catalan regional premier Arthur Mas would retain power.
Mas, pictured, is aligned against Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and favors the idea that Catalonia should become its own state.
The CiU was predicted to win between 54 and 57 seats in the 135-member assembly, a reduction on the 62 seats it held ahead of the election. The Republican left, or ERC, was projected to emerge in second place.
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.
They think they might fare better if they go it alone.
If elected, Mas has vowed to put the issue of Catalans independence on the ballot as a referendum. Rajoy has vowed to block such a referendum constitutionally. Mas called for the regional elections two years ahead of schedule to drum up support for the idea.
The ERC, also a separatist party, could support Mas in pushing for a referendum.
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.
mz,rc/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)