About two million Catalans have cast their votes in a disputed ballot on the region’s secession from Spain, giving weight to the symbolic vote contested by the central government in Madrid.
Spain dismisses Catalan independence vote as “sterile and useless.”
Voters of all ages queued on Sunday at 6,700 polling stations across the region from the early hours of the day until voting ended at 1900 GMT, defying fierce opposition from the Spanish government, which deemed the poll as unconstitutional.
Two hours before the polls closed, 1,977,531 voters had cast ballots across Catalonia, the region’s vice-president Joana Ortega told reporters.
The Catalan government said polling stations were to be manned by more than 40,000 volunteers in defiance of the court’s suspension.
Results are not expected until Monday morning.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Miguel Anxo Murado, a political analyst, said that supporters of the unofficial referendum needed to gather two million votes, to pressure the central government into agreeing to an official vote.
The ballot asks voters two questions: should Catalonia be a state, and if so, should it be independent?
Catalonia, with around 7.5 million inhabitants and Barcelona as its capital, is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions. President of the regional government Artur Mas wants greater autonomy for Catalonia.
The regional government pushed forward with the vote despite Spain’s Constitutional Court ordering its suspension on Tuesday after it agreed to hear the Spanish government’s challenge that the poll is unconstitutional.
Catalonia took a step towards greater autonomy in 2006 when it formally adopted a charter that assigned it the status of a “nation”.
But in 2010 the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence passions.
Spain’s recent economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts, but in 2012 Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas’s request for greater powers for Catalonia to tax and spend.