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Catalan Separatists Win Elections But Face Challenges In Breakaway From Spain

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Spain, separatists have won regional elections in the prosperous northeast region of Catalonia. The area has its own language and culture. And many people there want to break away and create their own country. That is not likely to happen soon. It's more likely that months of negotiations and uncertainty lie ahead. Lauren Frayer sent this report from Madrid.

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ARTUR MAS: We have won. (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The Catalan president Artur Mas was quick to declare victory. His pro-independence coalition won 62 of the 135 seats in Catalonia's parliament which sits in Barcelona, so separatists will control the regional legislature. But they'll need to woo a small far-left party to join them if they want to govern more easily with the majority. And that small party, known as CUP, has some demands of its own.

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ANNA GABRIEL: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We're all for independence," said CUP spokeswoman Anna Gabriel, "but we don't want to do it under the current Catalan president, Artur Mas." Squabbles over leadership and economic policy could delay what separatists have promised - an 18-month roadmap to independence from Spain. First, they'll set up a tax office, then embassies, all of which Spain considers illegal. In his first comment since the Catalan vote, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy urged calm.

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MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "These separatists have never had the law on their side," Rajoy said. "They don't even have support of the majority of Catalan society." Even though they won control of Catalonia's parliament, pro-independence parties did not win the popular vote. Fifty-two percent of Catalans voted for unionist parties, not separatists.

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INES ARRIMADAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "A majority voted for coexistence, for unity and for solving our problems together," said Ines Arrimadas from the unionist Ciudadanos party. All this could paralyze Spanish politics at least until nationwide elections this winter. If a new party takes power in Madrid, it might offer concessions to Catalonia and reduce the demand for independence there. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.