Support for independence drops to four-year low in Catalonia

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MADRID (Reuters) - The number of Catalans in favor of their region becoming independent from Spain has dropped to a four-year low, a survey showed on Friday, casting renewed doubt over the secession campaign just as its leaders disagree on the way forward.

Catalonia, a wealthy region in northern Spain, made a unilateral declaration of independence in October but the move was stopped by the Spanish authorities because it was against the country’s constitution.

The region, which has its own language and extensive devolved powers, has since then been ruled directly by the central government in Madrid. Secessionist parties won a regional election in December but they have since then failed to agree on how the region should be ruled.

Some in the independence camp want former regional head Carles Puigdemont to govern from Brussels where he is in self-imposed exile since October, a solution that faces many potential legal hurdles, while others would prefer to pick a candidate with a lower profile in order to ease tensions.

The closely watched quarterly survey from the Centro d’Estudis d’Opinio showed 40.8 percent of Catalans backed a split from Spain from 48.7 percent in October.

In the meantime, support for Catalonia remaining within Spain jumped to 53.9 percent from 43.6 percent, its highest level in four years.

The new regional parliament is due to hold its first regular session next week to discuss how to break the deadlock.

Reporting by Julien Toyer; Editing by Alison Williams