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Spain: Differences over independence drive splits ruling Catalan coalition

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MADRID — Differences over pushing for independence in Spain's powerful northeastern Catalonia region have torn apart the governing coalition that has ruled there for much of the past 40 years.

The Convergence and Union party pact was declared finished Thursday by Convergence, a day after Union pulled out of the regional government after deciding not to back Catalonian President Artur Mas' plans to use the local election in September as a referendum on independence.

Of the two parties, Mas' Convergence holds most power in the Barcelona-based government and plans to continue in office alone. Convergence secretary general Josep Rull said the rupture was definitive.

"There is no return path," he said.

Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, represents roughly a fifth of Spain's 1.1 trillion euro ($1.5 trillion) GDP. It has its own language as well as Spanish and substantial autonomy from Spain's national government in Madrid. A conservative, business-friendly grouping, Convergence and Union has governed Catalonia for 28 of the almost 40 years since Spain veered back toward democracy after the 1975 death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

Catalans are more or less evenly divided on independence, although most favor the right to vote on it. Spain has rejected the possibility of independence or the chance of voting for it, saying both violate the country's constitution.

The Union party leader, Josep Antoni Duran, favors Catalans deciding their own future but stops short of independence, preferring negotiations with Spain for a better deal for the region.

Mas has said if pro-independence parties win a majority in the September election he will push ahead with the split from Spain.

In an unofficial vote called by Mas last year, 2.3 million out of the region's 6.3 million potential voters cast ballots, most favoring secession.

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