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1m in Catalan 'independence' vote

More than a million voters participated today in an informal vote on whether Catalonia should secede from the rest of Spain, officials said.

The regional Catalan government pushed forward with the vote despite Spain's Constitutional Court ordering its suspension on Tuesday after it agreed to hear the Spanish government's challenge that the poll is unconstitutional.

The Catalan government said that more than 1.1 million of the 5.4 million eligible voters had voted by 1pm local time at polling stations manned with more than 40,000 volunteers. Results are expected tomorrow morning.

"Despite the enormous impediments, we have been able to get out the ballot boxes and vote," regional president Artur Mas said after depositing his ballot at a school in Barcelona.

The ballot asks voters two questions: should Catalonia be a state, and if so, should it be independent.

Polls show that the majority of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants want an official vote on independence while around half support breaking centuries-old ties with Spain.

Catalonia's push for independence comes two months after Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom.

Mr Mas has said the vote, which lacks guarantees such as an electoral roll, is only symbolic and will likely lead to anticipated regional elections that will stand-in for a referendum on independence.

There was a festive atmosphere as hundreds lined up in front of another school in Barcelona, with some wearing pro-independence regalia.

"I voted for independence because I've always felt very Catalan," said Nuria Silvestre, a 44-year-old teacher. "Maybe I wasn't so radical before, but the fact that they are prohibiting (the vote) from Madrid has made me."

Catalan TV showed similar lines of voters across the region.

Spanish state prosecutors announced late yesterday that they were opening an investigation to determine if by holding the informal vote in defiance of the court's suspension the Catalan government has broken the law.

Catalonia has seen rallies of hundreds of thousands of pro-independence supporters for the past three years after Spain's economic downturn and the Spanish government's repeated denial to grant Catalonia control over its financial future.

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