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Catalonia’s assembly is due to choose a new regional president after Artur Mas stepped down and pro-independence parties reached an agreement to form a coalition.

The anti-capitalist CUP party and the Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) alliance are expected to elect Carles Puigdemont as regional president.

The two sides had disagreed over whether Artur Mas could continue as Catalan president following elections.

Artur Mas has stepped aside in favor of Carles Puigdemont to avoid new elections.

Disagreements between secessionist parties, which gained a majority in September’s regional polls, have blocked the formation of a new Catalan government.Carles Puigdemont Catalonia

Artur Mas has been in power since 2010 and heads Junts pel Si, which won 62 of the 135 seats. However, the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), which holds 10 seats, has refused to support him.

Carles Puigdemont is the mayor of the town of Girona.

Nationally, Spain faces weeks of political uncertainty after an inconclusive general election on December 20.

In November, the Catalan parliament voted to start the secession process – a move declared unconstitutional by Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP), which ran the country before last month’s election.

Catalonia is a highly industrialized and populous region in Spain’s north-east that accounts for about a fifth of the country’s economic output.

Both the PP and the Socialists (PSOE), who came first and second respectively in Spain’s general election, oppose Catalan secession.

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President of the Generalitat of Catalonia Artur Mas has announced he will quit as the pro-independence head of the Spanish region, to avoid triggering new elections.

Disagreements between secessionist parties, which gained a majority in last year’s regional polls, have blocked the formation of a Catalan government.

Catalonia’s acting leader said he supported the mayor of the Girona region, Carles Puigdemont, as his replacement.

Artur Mas i Gavarró has been in power since 2010.

In September elections, Artur Mas’ Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) alliance won 62 of the 135 seats in the Catalan assembly.

However, a small anti-capitalist and pro-independence party, the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), which holds 10 seats, has refused to support Artur Mas as leader.

“I am stepping aside and will not be standing as a Junts pel Si candidate for the re-election of president of the regional government,” Artur Mas told a news conference in Barcelona.Artur Mas resignation

Nationally, Spain faces weeks of political uncertainty after an inconclusive general election on 20 December.

In November 2015, the Catalan parliament voted to start the secession process – a move declared unconstitutional by Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP), which ran the country before last month’s election.

Catalonia is a highly industrialized and populous region in Spain’s north-east that accounts for about a fifth of the country’s economic output.

Both the PP and the Socialists (PSOE), who came first and second respectively in Spain’s general election, oppose Catalan secession.

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Spain’s government is to challenge in the Constitutional Court a motion passed in the Catalan parliament backing the region’s independence.

PM Mariano Rajoy said he would not allow the secessionists to achieve their aim.

“They want an end to democracy,” he said.

Mariano Rajoy said Catalan vote on November 9 was a “clear violation” of the constitution.

The motion called on the regional parliament to aim for independence within 18 months.

It gives the assembly 30 days to start legislation on a Catalan constitution, treasury and social security system.

Catalan nationalist parties secured a majority of seats in September elections but fell short of winning half the vote. They had said before the vote that they considered it a de facto referendum on independence from Spain.

Photo Yahoo News

Photo Yahoo News

Spain’s state prosecutor had called on the Constitutional Court on November 11 to suspend the Catalan resolution immediately, the prime minister said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of Catalans favor a referendum on independence, but are evenly divided over whether to secede.

The Constitutional Court, which was due to hear the government’s appeal on November 11, is expected to rule against the Catalan motion.

However, the pro-secession parties had fully expected the motion to be declared illegal and as part of the motion argued that the court lacked legitimacy.

Two big separatist parties make up the “Together for Yes” (“Junts pel Si”) coalition but they needed the help of the far-left CUP (Popular Unity) party to secure an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament.

Catalonia’s acting president Artur Mas, who has spearheaded the drive for secession, has been trying to win re-election but has failed to secure the approval of the far-left party.

The CUP has called for another Together for Yes candidate, Raul Romeva, to take over the leadership role.

Several parties oppose secession in Catalonia, including the Catalan Socialists and Citizens (Ciudadanos), a center-right party which was born in the wealthy north-eastern region but has attracted increasing popularity across Spain.

Its leader, Albert Rivera, said earlier this week: “To those Catalans who want independence: the solution is not to break up the country, it is to reform it.”

Catalonia’s pro-independence parties have won an absolute majority in Spain’s regional elections, early results show.

With more than 90% of the votes counted, the main separatist alliance and a smaller party won 72 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament.

They said earlier a majority would allow them to declare independence from Spain unilaterally within 18 months.

Spain’s central government has pledged to block such moves in court.

With nearly 94% of the votes counted, the “Junts per Si” (“Together for Yes”) won 62 seats, while the far-left separatist CUP party is expected to secure 10 mandates.

“We have won,” Catalan regional President Artus Mas told his cheering supporters late on Sunday.Catalonia separatists win regional elections 2015

The pro-independence parties said ahead of the vote that they considered it a de facto referendum on independence from Spain.

They argue that the Spanish government has consistently refused to allow a legally recognized referendum to take place, ignoring an unofficial vote backing independence in November 2014.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of Catalans favor a referendum on independence but are evenly divided over whether they want to secede.

Polling stations in the wealthy north-eastern province opened at 09:00 local time and closed at 20:00.

More than five million people were eligible to vote.

Arturo Mas’ ruling Convergencia party and the Esquerra Republicana party put up a single list of candidates – under the “Together for Yes” banner.

The anti-independence vote in Catalonia was split between a number of groups, including Spain PM Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party.

The centre-right government in Madrid has described any breakaway plans as “a nonsense”.

Mariano Rajoy argues that because the loss of Catalonia would affect all of Spain, the democratic approach would be for all of the country to vote in a referendum on Catalonia’s future.

Catalonia is voting in regional elections that nationalist parties hope will set them on the road to independence from Spain.

Two separatist parties have joined forces, and are aiming to secure a majority of seats in parliament – 68 out of 135.

They say this would allow them to unilaterally declare independence within 18 months.

Spain’s central government in Madrid has pledged to block in court such moves.

Polls suggest a majority of Catalans favor a referendum on independence but are evenly divided over whether they want to secede.

Polling stations in the wealthy north-eastern province have opened open at 09:00 local and will close at 20:00.

More than five million people are eligible to cast their votes.Catalonia elections 2015

Artur Mas’ ruling Convergencia party and Esquerra Republicana have created a single list of candidates – under the banner “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes).

They say that September 27 vote is a de facto referendum on independence from Spain.

They argue that the Spanish government has consistently refused to allow a legally recognized referendum, ignoring an unofficial vote backing independence in November 2014.

The anti-independence vote in Catalonia is split between a number of groups, including Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party.

The centre-right government in Madrid has described any breakaway plans as “a nonsense”.

Mariano Rajoy argues that because the loss of Catalonia would affect all of Spain, the democratic approach would be for all of the country to vote in a referendum on Catalonia’s future.

At the same time, if “Together for Yes” fails to gain a majority it would be tantamount to a serious defeat for the pro-independence movement.

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More than 80% of voters backed the independence of Catalonia during an informal poll, officials say.

The non-binding vote went ahead after Spain’s constitutional court ruled out holding a formal referendum in the autonomous north-eastern region.

More than two million people out of an estimated 5.4 million eligible voters took part in the ballot.

Catalan leader Artur Mas hailed the poll “a great success” that should pave the way for a formal referendum.

“We have earned the right to a referendum,” he told cheering supporters.

“Once again Catalonia has shown that it wants to rule itself.”

He added: “I ask the people in the world, I ask the media and I also ask the democratic governments in the world to help the Catalan people decide its political future.”

More than 80 percent of voters backed the independence of Catalonia during an informal poll

More than 80 percent of voters backed the independence of Catalonia during an informal poll

The ballot was held in the face of fierce opposition from the Spanish government.

Speaking beforehand, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala dismissed the exercise as “fruitless and useless”.

“The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” he said in a statement.

Voters were asked two questions – whether they wanted Catalonia to be a state and whether they wanted that state to be independent.

Vice President Joana Ortega said that more than two million people had taken part in the “consultation of citizens” and that with almost all votes counted, 80.72% had answered “Yes” to both questions.

Just over 10% voted yes for the first question and no for the second, he said, and about 4.5% voted no to both questions.

Opinion polls suggest that as many as 80% of Catalans want an official referendum on the issue of Catalonia’s status, with about 50% in favor of full independence.

Spanish unionist parties argue that because the ballot was organized by grassroots pro-independence groups it cannot legitimately reflect the wishes of the region.

More than 40,000 volunteers helped to set up and run the informal exercise.

The Catalan National Assembly pressure group collected signatures at polling stations on a petition to be sent to the UN and the European Commission asking for help to convince Spain to allow an official referendum.

Nationalism in Catalonia has been fuelled by economic and cultural grievances. The wealthy region of 7.5 million people contributes more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

The Libres e Iguales (Free and Equal) group, which opposes the vote, held protests in dozens of cities.

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Catalonia is holding an informal poll on independence.

The Spanish judiciary has ruled the vote unconstitutional but Catalan leader Artur Mas warned against any attempt to disrupt it.

Spain’s constitutional court suspended earlier plans for a referendum on secession.

PM Mariano Rajoy said the vote would have no effect and urged the region to return to “sanity”.

Voters will be asked whether they want a Catalan state and whether that state should be independent.

Catalonia is a wealthy a region of 7.5 million people and contributes more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds. Economic and cultural grievances have fuelled Catalan nationalism.

He says there is a long history of support for winning independence from Spain, or at least much greater autonomy within it.

This week, the Constitutional Court demanded the vote be suspended.

Catalonia is holding an informal poll on independence

Catalonia is holding an informal poll on independence

Catalonia’s government insisted it went ahead, organized by volunteers and with no official electoral roll.

Artur Mas warned the Spanish government against any attempt to halt the vote.

He said: “I don’t know what they will do, it does not depend on us, but if they have a minimum of common sense I think any action out of the ordinary would be a direct attack on democracy and a direct attack on fundamental rights.”

Mariano Rajoy urged a return to sanity and for talks “within the legal framework of the constitution”.

He said the vote would be “neither a referendum nor a consultation nor anything of the sort”.

He added: “What is certain is that it will not have any effect.”

The Libres e Iguales (Free and Equal) group, which opposes the vote, held protests in dozens of cities.

One protest in Barcelona witnessed minor scuffles but no arrests.

Rallies in favor of the vote have also been held.

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Catalonia’s government has called off plans to push ahead with a contested independence referendum, Spanish media says.

A spokesman for Catalan President Artur Mas said he would be holding a news conference at 08:00 GMT on October 14.

Spain’s government said the November 9 vote was unconstitutional but Catalan’s leaders had vowed to hold it.

Support for independence has increased among the 7.5 million Catalans following Spain’s economic crisis.

On September 19, the regional parliament voted by 106 to 28 in favor of granting Catalan’s president the power to hold a referendum.

Catalonia’s government has called off plans to push ahead with the independence referendum

Catalonia’s government has called off plans to push ahead with the independence referendum

Spain’s central government protested against the move and the Constitutional Court agreed to hear their case against the referendum – a process that could take years.

The pro-independence Catalan government had previously said it was examining legal arguments to persuade the court to lift its suspension of the vote while the case is heard.

However, Joan Herrera, of the Initiative for Catalonia party, told reporters that the regional government had “determined that the consultation can’t take place” after meeting with pro-referendum parties on Monday.

Spanish media said that President Artur Mas was now looking for other mechanisms to consult the public.

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans have protested on the streets in recent weeks, demanding their own vote.

Polls suggest most Catalans favor holding the vote, but are roughly evenly split on independence.

With about 16% of the Spanish population and a distinct language and culture, Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most independent-minded regions.

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Catalonia’s planned independence referendum has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Spain’s Constitutional Court said it first needed to consider arguments whether the November 9 vote breached the country’s constitution.

It acted on a request from the Spanish central government in Madrid.

Catalonia leader Artur Mas signed a decree on September 27 calling for the referendum.

However, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy told reporters that the vote was not “compatible with the Spanish constitution”.

“Nobody and nothing will be allowed to break up Spain.”

Mariano Rajoy was speaking in a televised statement to the nation after holding an emergency cabinet meeting.

Catalonia's planned independence referendum has been suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court

Catalonia’s planned independence referendum has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined a protest in Barcelona recently, calling for their right to vote.

Unhappy at Spain’s refusal to give Catalans more powers, protesters have been energized by Scotland’s recent independence referendum and many also waved the Scottish flag.

Catalonia’s 7.5 million inhabitants make up approximately 16 % of the population of Spain. Yet it is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized regions, as well as one of its most independent-minded.

Spain’s deepening economic crisis, though, has seen a surge in support for separation.

A recent poll for Spain’s El Pais newspaper showed that 45% of Catalans were in favor of suspending the referendum if the Constitutional Court declared it illegal.

Only 23% would like the referendum to go ahead regardless, the survey suggested.

Artur Mas has only recently become a supporter of full independence. Since 2007, he has spearheaded a push to revitalize Catalan nationalism known as the Refoundation of Catalanism.

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Artur Mas, the president of the Spanish region of Catalonia, has signed a decree calling for a referendum on independence.

Artur Mas wants Catalonia to hold a Scottish-style vote on November 9, but does not have the backing of the central government in Madrid.

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will block any referendum.

Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.

On September 19, Catalonian lawmakers voted by a margin of 106 to 28 in favor of authorizing the referendum, known locally as a “consultation”.

Mariano Rajoy and the Spanish government believe any vote would be illegal.

President Artur Mas has signed a decree calling referendum on Catalonia's independence

President Artur Mas has signed a decree calling referendum on Catalonia’s independence

The prime minister is expected to take action at a special cabinet meeting early next week, and is likely to take the dispute to the country’s Constitutional Court.

However, President Artur Mas says he can use local laws to hold a vote in a matter of weeks.

Artur Mas has previously insisted that the pro-independence movement would prevail, even if it faces stiff opposition.

Until recently, few Catalans had wanted full independence, but Spain’s painful economic crisis has seen a surge in support for separation, correspondents say.

There is resentment over the proportion of Catalan taxes used to support poorer regions.

The pro-independence movement in Catalonia believes that the region can go ahead with the independence vote after the decree is signed.

Earlier this month hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a “V” for “vote” along two of Barcelona’s main roads calling for their right to vote.

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The Catalan parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favor of giving its regional president the power to call an independence “consultation”.

Spain’s government opposes the Catalan “consultation” vote and is taking the dispute to the Constitutional Court.

The move comes a day after Scotland voted against independence from the United Kingdom.

Catalan President Artur Mas said Scotland’s referendum had “shown the way” for Catalonian independence.

Artur Mas is preparing Catalonia for a similar vote on November 9, with large-scale support for independence from Spain.

Catalonian lawmakers voted by a margin of 106 to 28 in favor of authorizing the consultation.

Spain’s Constitutional Court is expected to consider the Catalan case on September 23 and could suspend the region’s vote on independence.

Artur Mas earlier said Scotland’s rejection of independence was “not a setback” and that having the chance to vote was “the key point”.

Catalonia has a large-scale support for independence from Spain

Catalonia has a large-scale support for independence from Spain (photo AFP)

“This is a powerful and strong message that the UK is sending to the entire world – that if there is such a conflict elsewhere in the world you have the right way to try to resolve these differences,” he said.

Scotland “has shown the way to others – the Catalan process continues”, he added.

“My main commitment is to… organize the referendum and let the Catalan people vote,” Artur Mas said.

“If they think in Madrid that by using legal frameworks they can stop the will of the Catalan people, they are wrong.”

Spain’s PM Mariano Rajoy warmly welcomed the Scottish “No” to independence.

“With their decision, the Scottish have avoided the grave economic, social, institutional and political consequences that would have resulted from its separation from the United Kingdom and Europe,” he said.

“They chose between integration and segregation, between isolation and openness, between stability and uncertainty, between security and a real risk, and they have chosen the most favorable option for everyone, for them, for the rest of the British citizens and for Europe.”

Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.

Until recently, few Catalans had wanted full independence, but Spain’s painful economic crisis has seen a surge in support for separation, correspondents say. There is resentment over the proportion of Catalan taxes used to support poorer regions.

Artur Mas can count on support from 79% of the deputies in Catalonia’s parliament, the Spanish news agency EFE reports.

The pro-independence movement in Catalonia believes that once Artur Mas signs the new law, the region can go ahead with the independence vote.

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Voters in Spanish region of Catalonia have given a majority to parties seeking Catalan independence.

However, Catalan President Artur Mas, who called the early election and pushed for independence, lost seats.

His centre-right CiU remains the largest bloc, winning 50 seats out of 135, down from 62 last time.

The left-wing separatist ERC won 21 seats. However, despite their combined majority, the parties may be unable to work together.

Both the CiU and ERC want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain.

Artur Mas said he would consult the people on independence within the next four years.

“I am happy with tonight’s results, but not as happy as I could have been,” he said.

Artur Mas called early elections after a funding row with the central government in Madrid.

It has accused him of trying to exploit the economic crisis, saying Catalan nationalists were looking for excuses after nearly running out of money.

Voters in Spanish region of Catalonia have given a majority to parties seeking Catalan independence

Voters in Spanish region of Catalonia have given a majority to parties seeking Catalan independence

Artur Mas says the wealthy and influential north-eastern region gets a raw funding deal from the central government. His centre-right Catalan nationalist coalition (CiU) argues a Catalan state would fare better as a member of the EU than a province of Spain.

The European flag was prominent at Artur Mas’s campaign rallies, and he says an independent Catalonia would quickly gain membership of the 27-member bloc.

However, the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), the Republican Left party, has more than doubled its previous share of seats – up from 10 in 2010 to 21 this time.

That has been seen partly as a reaction to Artur Mas’s resort to austerity measures to fight Catalonia’s debt.

CiU and the ERC have very different views of how to address the economic crisis.

The result may actually mean a referendum on independence from Spain is therefore less likely, because the political process has become even more complicated.

It was already far from straightforward.

A referendum would be illegal under the current Spanish constitution, and Spain’s ruling Popular Party is likely to block any attempts for constitutional change.

Other parties, such as the Ciutadans, the Popular Party of Catalonia and the Socialist Party of Catalonia are all opposed to Catalonia’s independence bid.

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Catalonia, one of the most important regions of Spain, is holding key regional elections, after a campaign that has focused on the issue of independence.

Catalan nationalists want to hold a referendum on whether the region should break away from the rest of Spain.

Polls suggest Catalan nationalist parties are set to do well.

Catalan President Artur Mas called early elections amid a funding row with the central government; it says he is trying to exploit the economic crisis.

Madrid says Catalan nationalists are looking for excuses having nearly run out of money, and having run up a big debt.

Polls close at 20:00 local time.

Artur Mas says the wealthy and influential north-eastern region gets a raw funding deal from the central government and his centre-right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) will be hoping for a majority in the regional parliament.

His party argues a Catalan state would fare better as a member of the EU than a province of Spain.

The European flag has been prominent at his campaign rallies, and he says an independent Catalonia would quickly gain membership of the 27-member bloc.

Catalonia is holding key regional elections after a campaign that has focused on the issue of independence

Catalonia is holding key regional elections after a campaign that has focused on the issue of independence

The CiU ousted the Socialist party in elections in November 2010.

With 135 parliamentary seats available, Artur Mas knows that if he is to pursue his dream of an independent Catalonia, he will need a clear mandate from voters.

If not, Artur Mas will have to rely on the support of smaller pro-independence parties, our correspondent says.

Even then, the road to independence is far from straightforward.

A referendum would be illegal under the current Spanish constitution, and Spain’s ruling Popular Party is likely to block any attempts for constitutional change.

Other parties, such as the nationalist Ciutadans, the Popular Party of Catalonia the Socialist Party of Catalonia are all opposed to Catalonia’s independence bid.

The Catalan vote comes as the Basque separatist movement Eta indicates it is ready to disarm, disband and enter talks with the French and Spanish governments.

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Police have fired rubber bullets and baton-charged Spanish protesters attending a rally against austerity in Madrid.

The clashes occurred as protesters tried to tear down barriers blocking access to the parliament, reports said.

Metal barriers had been placed around the building to block access from every possible direction.

Demonstrators – known as Indignants – say “Occupy Congress” is a protest against the kidnapping of democracy.

Spanish media reported at least 20 people had been arrested and 13 injured in the clashes, as police tried to prevent demonstrators gaining access to Congress.

Police have fired rubber bullets and baton-charged Spanish protesters attending Occupy Congress rally against austerity in Madrid

Police have fired rubber bullets and baton-charged Spanish protesters attending Occupy Congress rally against austerity in Madrid

Thousands of people had massed in Plaza de Neptuno square in central Madrid for the march on parliament.

But their route towards the parliament building’s main entrance is blocked off by metal railings, police vans and hundreds of Spanish riot police.

Spain’s provinces have piled pressure on the government with a possible new bailout request and an early election.

Andalucia is considering asking for a 4.9 billion euro ($6.3 billion) emergency credit line from the central government, a spokeswoman for the regional administration confirmed to Reuters news agency.

Three other regions – Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia – have already said they will seek emergency funds.

In Catalonia, President Artur Mas called an early election for 25 November, which correspondents say will be a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the province.

There is real concern in Europe that Spain may need an international bailout going beyond the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) pledged by eurozone finance ministers in June to rescue its banks.

Tuesday’s demonstration was organized via social media sites and many young people turned out.

Buses were reportedly laid on to ferry demonstrators into the capital from the provinces.

One of the main protest groups, Coordinadora #25S, said the Indignants did not plan to storm parliament, only to march around it.

The Coordinadora #25S manifesto reads: “Democracy has been kidnapped. On 25 September we are going to save it.”

Pablo Mendez, an activist from the 15M Indignants movement, told the Associated Press: “This is just a powerful signal that we are sending to politicians to let them know that the Spanish bailout is suicide and we don’t agree with it, and we will try to prevent it happening.”

Another demonstrator, Montse Puigdavall, said: “I’m here because of the situation we are living in now, because of all the social cuts and rights that we have lost, that took a lot of hard work to achieve.

“So we are here because we’re determined not to lose them.”

Under Spanish law, people who lead demonstrations outside parliament that disrupt its business while it is in session may be jailed for up to one year, AFP says.

Clashes have broken out at previous rallies and marches against the cuts and at least 1,300 police are on duty at the Congress building.

The Spanish government is having to borrow heavily to cope with the effects of a collapse in property prices, a recession and the worst unemployment rate in the eurozone.

After nine months in government, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is still resisting pressure to request a bailout.

His government insists the 100bn-euro pledge does not constitute an international financial rescue.

If Mariano Rajoy does request a bailout, it may not happen before late October because of a regional election in his home province, Galicia.

Catalonia’s election decision comes days after Mariano Rajoy rejected a request from the wealthy but indebted region to run its own fiscal affairs.

The region is legally barred from holding an actual referendum on independence.

“It is time to take the risk,” Artur Mas told the regional parliament.

“If Catalonia were a state we would be among the 50 biggest exporting countries in the world.”

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Riot police have ringed the Spanish parliament in Madrid as protesters gather for a march against austerity tagged “Occupy Congress”.

Metal barriers have been placed around the building to block access from every possible direction, correspondents say.

Indignants, as the protesters are known, say they are protesting at the “kidnapping” of democracy.

Spain’s provinces have piled pressure on the government with a possible new bailout request and an early election.

Andalucia is considering asking for a 4.9 billion euro ($6.3 billion) emergency credit line from the central government, a spokeswoman for the regional government confirmed for Reuters news agency.

Three other regions – Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia – have already said they will seek emergency funds.

Indignants, as the protesters are known, say they are protesting at the "kidnapping" of democracy

Indignants, as the protesters are known, say they are protesting at the "kidnapping" of democracy

In Catalonia, President Artur Mas called an early election for 25 November, which correspondents say will be a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the province.

There is real concern in Europe that Spain may need an international bailout going beyond the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) pledged by eurozone finance ministers in June to rescue its banks.

Thousands of people have gathered in central Madrid for the march to parliament, due to begin at 17:30.

Buses were reportedly laid on to ferry demonstrators into the capital from the provinces.

One of the main protest groups, Coordinadora #25S, said the Indignants did not plan to storm parliament, only to march around it.

The Coordinadora #25S manifesto reads: “Democracy has been kidnapped. On 25 September we are going to save it.”

Pablo Mendez, an activist from the 15M Indignants movement, told the Associated Press news agency: “This is just a powerful signal that we are sending to politicians to let them know that the Spanish bailout is suicide and we don’t agree with it, and we will try to prevent it happening.”

Another demonstrator, Montse Puigdavall, said: “I’m here because of the situation we are living in now, because of all the social cuts and rights that we have lost, that took a lot of hard work to achieve.

“So we are here because we’re determined not to lose them.”

Under Spanish law, people who lead demonstrations outside parliament that disrupt its business while it is in session may be jailed for up to one year, AFP notes.

Clashes have broken out at previous rallies and marches against the cuts and at least 1,300 police are said to be on duty at the Congress building.

The Spanish government is having to borrow heavily to cope with the effects of a property values collapse, a recession and the worst unemployment rate in the eurozone.

After nine months in government, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is still resisting pressure to request a bailout.

His government insists the 100 billion-euro pledge does not constitute an international financial rescue.

If Mariano Rajoy does request a bailout, it may not happen before late October because of a regional election in his home province, Galicia.

Catalonia’s election decision comes days after Mariano Rajoy rejected a request from the wealthy but indebted region to run its own fiscal affairs.

The region is legally barred from holding an actual referendum on independence.

“It is time to take the risk,” Artur Mas told the regional parliament.

“If Catalonia were a state we would be among the 50 biggest exporting countries in the world.”

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