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Spain rejects Catalonia poll bid

Spain's parliament has overwhelmingly rejected a petition by the powerful north-eastern Catalonia region to allow an independence referendum, in a move that is likely to increase the divide between both sides.

The request was voted down, 299-47 with one abstention after nearly seven hours of debate.

Catalonia's pro-independence sentiment has exploded recently amid objections over how the region is treated by the government. Many in the region, in the north east of the Iberian Peninsula, are convinced that independence would benefit them economically.

But the issue is politically fraught, with many politicians arguing that Catalonians alone cannot decide something that affects all of Spain. The referendum has stirred debate about whether Spain's 1978 constitution should be reformed to devolve more power and to calm territorial unease.

Conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated that it simply was not possible to grant permission for a vote, which he said was prohibited by the constitution.

"The door is wide open for those who are not happy with the way things are: start with reforming the constitution," Mr Rajoy said.

But Catalonian politician Joan Herrera argued that a No vote would only "increase the difference" between Catalonia and Spain because Catalonians were not being allowed to exercise what they saw as their right to decide their future.

Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, represents about a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion euro (£898bn) GDP. Like other regions in Spain, it has its own language as well as Spanish, and substantial autonomy.

Catalonia regional president Artur Mas, who did not attend the session, insisted that the poll would be held regardless. It remains to be seen if he can, or whether Spain will prevent it from happening.

Mr Mas began pushing for the independence poll after he failed to clinch a better financial pact for Catalonia in 2012.

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