According to partial results, Catalans have voted for independence. A nonbinding referendum on independence in the semiautonomous region of Spain drew 2 million voters on Sunday.
Catalans chose overwhelmingly to secede from Spain in Sunday's independence referendum, a symbolic move that supporters hope will propel the issue further despite opposition from the central government.
The "consultation of citizens" in the wealthy northeastern region follows a legal block by the central government against the more formal, albeit still nonbinding, ballot that regional leaders had originally pushed for in announcing the referendum in September.
Even before the announcement of the early results, with nearly 81 percent of voters favoring his cause, regional government head Artur Mas said that he considered the vote itself the victory.
"Once again, Catalonia has shown that it wants to rule itself," Mas told cheering supporters on Sunday.
The referendum is unlikely to have a direct legal impact. In late September, Spain's constitutional court suspended the referendum after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy filed an appeal to contest the vote, which he had argued was illegal.
However, Catalan leaders pressed ahead anyway, holding the unofficial vote through grassroots organizations.
'Sterile and useless'
The vote came after years of escalating tension between Spain's central government and the Catalan regional authorities. Officials in Madrid have argued that, on constitutional grounds, Catalonia, which speaks its own language and makes up about 16 percent of Spain's population, cannot decide something which would affect the country as a whole.
Ahead of the results, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala had accused the Catalan official Mas of organizing "an act of pure political propaganda with no democratic validity." He said the government might take further legal measures against the vote, which he characterized as "sterile and useless."
Pro-independence organizations had campaigned for a big turnout from the region's population of 7.5 million. Opinion polls released before the referendum had shown that though just about half of Catalans favored full independence, as many as 80 percent backed voting on the issue. Early numbers showed that about half of eligible Catalans turned out and 80 percent said they wanted to be free.
The vote came less than two months after Scotland held a similar referendum on independence from the United Kingdom that ultimately failed, but did succeed in giving the country more autonomy from the central government in London. Catalan politicians had hoped that the high turnout would prompt Spain's central government to negotiate more tax and political autonomy - or even convince Madrid to accept a full-blown independence referendum in the future.
"Banning democracy is always a big mistake," Oriol Junqueras, the head of the Catalan pro-independence party ERC, told the news agency Reuters at a polling station on Sunday.
mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)