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Spain's prime minister has rejected a request by the leader of Catalonia to approve a referendum that would allow the northeastern region to decide whether to secede from the rest of the country.
Spain is on the verge of splintering. The eurozone's fourth-largest economy is in the midst of a severe crisis. Unemployment exceeds 25 percent, and the country's massive debt threatens to bring about a Greece-style default.
Residents of Spain's Catalonia region showed they want the right to decide on possible independence, but they split their votes among fractious separatist parties, making that overall goal less likely than ever.
Voters in Catalonia on Sunday are choosing lawmakers for this wealthy Spanish region's parliament amid a threat from the Catalan leader to hold an independence referendum that would test the country's unity.
Voters in Spain's wealthy Catalonia region Sunday sliced the majority held by a nationalist alliance in snap elections, giving strong gains to left-wing parties that favor independence, exit polls said.