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[MADRID] The wealthy Spanish region of Catalonia will hold an election for its regional parliament on September 27, a vote the main parties want to use as a proxy for a referendum on independence oppposed by Madrid.
The date, announced at a news conference by the head of the northeastern regional government Artur Mas on Wednesday, is a few months before Spain's general election and reignites the deeply divisive issue of Catalonia's status within or without Spain.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has taken a hard line on secessionist ambitions in the region, which accounts for one fifth of Spain's economic output.
The vote will be held on Catalonia's national day, and will not include a joint list of candidates from the two main parties in favour of independence - Mas's Convergencia (Convergence) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (The Republican Left of Catalonia). "We will run with different (candidate) lists but with a common national road map," Mas said.
The Catalan regional vote had been due no later than 2016.
Catalonia defied Madrid to go ahead with a symbolic secession vote on Nov. 9 and Artur Mas subsequently raised the prospect of early elections to further the independence cause.
A majority of people in Catalonia would vote to stay part of Spain, a poll by the regional government showed in December, the first in years to show a majority against independence but by a very slim margin.