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Poll predicts Catalan separatists to win regional election majority

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BARCELONA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Separatist parties looked set to win enough votes to keep a majority of seats in Catalonia's regional parliament on Sunday, according to a poll by TV3 as polling stations closed.

Even if official results confirm this outcome, it is unlikely to lead to any repeat of the chaotic, short-lived declaration of independence from Spain as took place in 2017.

Tensions have since ebbed and most voters were more concerned about the coronavirus pandemic than independence.

If the official results match the opinion poll, the most likely scenario would be that the two main separatist parties would repeat their current coalition government.

But, with leftist, separatist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) seen getting more lawmakers than the more radical Junts this time, that could boost the stability of Spain's central government.

ERC has handed key votes to the ruling Socialists in the Spanish parliament in exchange for talks on the Catalan political conflict.

Pro-independence parties "will win tonight," Sergi Sabria, a top parliamentary official in ERC told reporters.

Monitors swapped face masks for full PPE, including suits, masks, visors, goggles and black bin bags tied around their feet during the final hour of voting, "the zombie hour", which was reserved for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

ERC would get 36-38 seats in the 135-seat assembly, while the centre-right pro-independence Junts would get between 30 and 33, the TV3 opinion poll showed.

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A worker uses disinfectant to clean ballot boxes containing personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies at Sant Antoni Market, which will be a polling station for the February 14th regional election, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Barcelona, Spain February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Far-left separatist party CUP would get seven seats.

The Socialist party was seen getting more votes than any other party, but was behind ERC in terms of seats, with 34-36 regional lawmakers, failing in its attempt to dislodge the separatist parties.

Official results are expected to trickle in through the evening, with no clear picture before at least 2100 GMT, and possibly later due to delays caused by the pandemic.

The opinion poll also pointed to more changes.

Far-right Vox was forecast to be the most voted conservative party, with 5.9% of votes, ahead of the People Party, the main Spanish conservative party, and the center-right Ciudadanos.

Vox was seen getting 6-7 lawmakers, winning seats in Catalonia's regional parliament for the first time. It is already the third-largest party in Spain's national parliament.

Other pandemic precautions during the day included temperatures taken on arrival, separate entrances and exits, hand gel on tap and floor markings to ensure social distancing.

The day was marked by a low turnout, which the Catalan regional government blamed on the pandemic, and by 6 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) voter turnout was 46.02%, 22 points lower than at the same point in 2017.

The opinion poll was conducted by GAD3 through 8,000 phone calls throughout the campaign, with the number of calls intensifying as the campaign got closer to election day.

Reporting by Joan Faus Editing by Ingrid Melander and Peter Graff

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