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Election in Catalan region tests Spain’s unity

Voters in the industrious and economically important northeastern region of Catalonia began casting their ballots as polling stations opened Sunday in elections that could determine the future shape of .

Just over 5.2 million people are eligible to vote for candidates to fill the 135-seat parliament located in Barcelona.

The regional government, led by Artur Mas, called early elections as part of a power struggle with the central government run by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

While Rajoy is immersed in combatting Spain’s worst financial crisis in decades, Mas claims Catalonia is being asked to shoulder too much of the tax burden and that it could do better if it separated and tried to become an independent member state of the European Union.

If voters give Mas strong support on Sunday, he has pledged to hold a referendum asking Catalans if they would prefer to split from Spain and go it alone in the 27-member EU.

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