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Pro-Independence Parties Win Majority in Catalonia Elections


Catalan independence supporters wave a 'estelada' ( pro-independence Catalan flag ) celebrate at the ANC ( Catalan National Assembly ) headquarters after results of the regional elections in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro-independence parties have won a majority of parliamentary seats in the northern Spanish area of Catalonia.

The results are a victory for supporters of the movement to break away from Spain. However, pro-independence parties won just two seats above a majority, for a total of 70.

A record number of people reportedly voted. Nearly 82 percent of Catalonia’s 5.5 million eligible voters took part.

Why is the vote important?

The recent vote comes after months of tense relations. On October 1 this year, independence leaders held a referendum in Catalonia on whether to separate from Spain.

The leaders said 90 percent of those who voted in the referendum supported independence. However, only about 43 percent of registered voters took part.

Nevertheless, Catalan parliament claimed the region independent.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during a news conference in Madrid, Spain, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. Catalonia's secessionist parties won enough votes Thursday to regain a slim majority in the regional parliament and give new momentum to their po
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during a news conference in Madrid, Spain, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. Catalonia's secessionist parties won enough votes Thursday to regain a slim majority in the regional parliament and give new momentum to their po

But Spain’s government and Constitutional Court declared the referendum illegal. Then, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed Catalonia’s government. And he called for this month’s elections in an effort to block the independence movement.

What does the pro-independence winner say?

The Together for Catalonia party won the most votes. The leader of the party is former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist.

But Puigdemont is not currently in Catalonia. After the Spanish prime minister dismissed Catalonia’s government, Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid facing arrest on charges of rebellion.

So Puigdemont campaigned for the recent elections from Brussels. He gave interviews, posted statements on social media and spoke to rallies through video link.

On Friday, Puigdemont said the election results marked a clear defeat for the Spanish government. “Mariano Rajoy has received a slap in the face from Catalonia,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Carles Puigdemont, the dismissed president of Catalonia, arrives to speak after watching the results of Catalonia's regional election in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 21, 2017.
Carles Puigdemont, the dismissed president of Catalonia, arrives to speak after watching the results of Catalonia's regional election in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 21, 2017.

Puigdemont also repeated a call for a meeting between him and Rajoy, saying now is the right time for new negotiations. “We’ve at least won the right to be heard,” he said.

Puigdemont didn’t make clear if or when he would try to return to Spain, where he is still wanted for arrest.

What does the anti-independence winner say?

On the anti-independence side, the main winner was Ines Arrimadas. She leads the pro-business Citizens party. Her party won 37 seats, and 25 percent of the votes.

Arrimadas has been a strong voice of opposition in parliament and one of the leading anti-independence campaigners. She said her strong showing means pro-independence leaders can never again claim they speak for all of Catalonia.

Catalan Ciudadanos leader Ines Arrimadas, center, smiles next to Ciudadanos national leader Albert Rivera at a Ciudadanos rally after results were announced in Catalonia's regional elections in Barcelona, Spain, Dec. 21, 2017.
Catalan Ciudadanos leader Ines Arrimadas, center, smiles next to Ciudadanos national leader Albert Rivera at a Ciudadanos rally after results were announced in Catalonia's regional elections in Barcelona, Spain, Dec. 21, 2017.

“We are going to keep fighting for a peaceful co-existence, common sense and for a Catalonia for all Catalans,” she said.

What does the Spanish government and the EU say?

Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy told a news conference Friday he was open to talks with pro-independence leaders. He said he expected there to be a “new era based on dialogue.”

Rajoy noted the election results showed a diversity of support on both sides of the independence issue. He added that he will hold talks with the new leaders of Catalonia as long as they do not take actions that violate Spain’s constitution.

A supporter of Junts per Catalunya or Together for Catalonia makes a yellow ribbon in support of Catalonian politicians who have been jailed on charges of sedition, during a campaigning event in Barcelona, Spain, Dec. 19, 2017.
A supporter of Junts per Catalunya or Together for Catalonia makes a yellow ribbon in support of Catalonian politicians who have been jailed on charges of sedition, during a campaigning event in Barcelona, Spain, Dec. 19, 2017.

Leaders of Catalonia’s independence movement have sought support from other European Union nations for their cause. But EU officials have instead backed the Spanish prime minister in the political dispute.

On Friday, pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont again called on the EU to be open to hearing out all sides in the dispute. “I only demand to the European Commission or other European institutions, to listen, listen to the Catalan people, not only the Spanish state,” he said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

eligible adj. able to be chosen for something

rally n. a large public meeting held in support of something

slap n. a hit in the face made with the inside part of the hand

era n. a period of time in history that is associated with a person, event, etc.

diversity n. the state of having many different forms, types or ideas

referendum n. election in which people in an area vote for or against an issue of public concern

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