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Catalonians vote for more autonomy

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Spain
Jose Luis Rodriguez
Government

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Voters in Catalonia have approved by a wide margin a measure giving Spain's semi-autonomous northeastern region even more power, a move that critics contend will weaken the central government.

With almost all the votes counted, nearly 74 percent approved the measure and about 21 percent opposed it. Turnout was around 50 percent.

Spain's two biggest parties both claimed victory: the ruling Socialists noted that the power of the region, which includes Barcelona, will grow as Catalans take over tax collection. Catalans already control their own health and education programs.

Some analysts said the move could strengthen the hand of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is headed into talks with the Basque separatist group ETA.

ETA recently declared a "permanent" cease-fire in its long fight for Basque independence.

Zapatero is expected to point to the vote of its Catalan neighbors as a demonstration that his plan to allow more regional independence need not result in a dissolution of the country into individual fiefdoms.

But conservatives pointed to the turnout as evidence that the Catalonians really do not care about the issue.

Spain, which has 17 regions, is already one of Europe's most decentralized countries.

Conservatives have said Spain needs to be unified, while progressives have pushed for more home rule in the regions.

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