Separatists are celebrating their election victory after taking a clear majority of seats in Catalonia's parliament, in an election setting the region on a collision course with Spain's central government over independence.
Separatists have won a clear majority of seats in Catalonia's parliament, preliminary official results showed, in an election that set the region on a collision course with Spain's central government over independence.
"The Yes has won, but democracy has also won. And that is very important. Two victories in one. The Yes and democracy," acting Catalan regional government head Artur Mas told supporters, with secessionist parties on track to secure 72 out of 135 seats in the powerful region of 7.5 million people that includes Barcelona.
The strong pro-independence showing dealt a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, three months before a national election. His center-right government, which has opposed attempts to hold a referendum on secession, has called the separatist plan "a nonsense" and vowed to block it in court.
Spain's constitution does not allow any region to break away, so the prospect of a breakaway remains highly hypothetical.
The main secessionist group "Junts pel Si" (Together for Yes) was on track to secure 62 seats, while the smaller leftist CUP party would get another 10, according to official results with 97 percent of the votes counted.
They would jointly obtain 47.8 percent of the vote, on a record turnout of 78 percent -- a big boost to an independence campaign which has been losing support over the last two years.
Both had said before the vote that such a result would allow them to unilaterally declare independence within 18 months, under a plan that would see the new Catalan authorities approving their own constitution and building institutions like an army, central bank and judicial system.
Addressing supporters of Junts pel Si in central Barcelona, Mas said a "democratic mandate" now existed to move forward with independence.
"We have a lot of work to do and we are not going to relax. We have a democratic mandate and we know what that means. We know how we have won. We have won against the odds. But we have won and that gives us an amazing strength and legitimacy to carry out this project. We will do it and we will honour this democratic mandate," Mas told the exultant crowd, which chanted "in-inde-independencia" and waved secessionist flags.
"I am very happy because we have won. Because democracy has won. The fear campaign carried out by the government, saying we would lose our pensions, that we would be unfeasible, that we would fight each other. Today we have the results, with a 70 percent of participation. That is democracy," Genis Miranda, a 21 year-old architecture student told Reuters while the crowd sang and danced to the group's campaign song.
"I am very happy, I just can't explain. After all the tricks they have played I feel very happy. It is one of the happiest days of my life. For my children, my grandchildren, all of you. I am very happy, it is amazing," Joan Torner, who broke into tears, stated.
The vote in Catalonia, Spain's second most populous region, is widely expected to influence the course of the Spanish general election in December.
Spain's two dominant parties - the ruling People's Party and the opposition Socialists - lost tens of thousands of votes compared with the last vote in 2012, boding ill for their national ambitions, although the PP suffered a much deeper setback than its rival.
Anti-austerity Podemos also registered a disappointing score at 9 percent, sharply down from last May's nationwide regional and local elections.
Among parties opposed to independence, pro-market Ciudadanos, often cited as a national kingmaker, emerged as the only winner as it jumped to 18 percent of the vote.
Opinion polls show a majority of Catalans would like to remain within Spain if the region was offered a more favourable tax regime and laws that better protect language and culture.