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Catalan separatists win confidence vote in test of supporters' loyalty

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalonia’s pro-independence government won a confidence vote on Thursday that it hopes will spur support for its attempts to split from Spain at a time of disarray in national politics.

Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont is applauded after a confidence vote session at Catalan Parliament in Barcelona, Spain September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Triggered by squabbling among separatist factions which hold power in Catalonia’s regional assembly, the 72-63 win in the vote served as a show of unity as local leaders try to push ahead with secession plans.

The wealthy north-eastern region’s premier, Carles Puigdemont, has said a victory in the vote would accelerate his government’s proposals to construct an independent Catalan state, with or without Spain’s consent.

Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament on Wednesday that he was willing to discuss the terms of a referendum on independence with Madrid, which has steadfastly opposed it, but that otherwise he would hold one next September regardless.

This was a sentiment shared by other pro-independence Catalans in Barcelona.

“The current situation with Spain is unsolvable,” said local estate agent Jose Garcia in the city’s gothic centre near the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia cathedral. “To find a solution together with Spain would be ideal but it is looking more and more difficult.”

Puigdemont called the confidence vote in July when the anti-capitalist CUP party, which previously had backed the coalition government of separatist parties, shot down a proposed budget for 2017 saying it had been dictated by Spain’s central administration.

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In the vote on Thursday, the CUP’s 10 lawmakers backed Puigdemont’s Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) party but said it did not give him “carte blanche” with the budget. A defeat in the vote would have triggered new regional elections.

Support for independence in Catalonia - which accounts for almost a fifth of Spanish economic output and is home to 7.5 million people - has ebbed and flowed over the past year.

Some 48 percent of Catalans supported secession in a poll in July, but that it is below its peak from a few years ago.

Acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s consistent refusal to consider any measures that could help Catalonia hold a legally binding referendum has sharpened the stand-off with the separatists.

Rajoy’s government asked Spain’s Constitutional Court in August to annul a resolution by Catalonia’s assembly to press ahead with independence and it said it would press criminal charges against the assembly’s speaker.

Disarray at the heart of Spanish national politics has not helped relations. Catalonia has been left frustrated on the sidelines as national parties fail to break a nine-month deadlock over the formation of a central government.

On Wednesday, the main opposition Socialist party was torn in two after senior members resigned en masse to try to unseat their leader and avoid a third election.

In Barcelona, the turmoil in Madrid also took centre stage in parliament.

Ines Arrimades, leader of the anti-independence Ciudadanos’s Catalan wing, said before the vote that the separatists were ignoring key issues such as health and education due to their obsession with holding a referendum.

“You are all very comfortable with the deadlock, because when things get worse for Spain, they get better for you,” she said.

Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Julien Toyer and Ralph Boulton