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Independence the key word as Catalonia campaign starts

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(BARCELONA) - Politicians in the Spanish region of Catalonia started campaigning Friday for an election later this month, with the region's current leader Artur Mas again promising a referendum on whether it should break away from Spain.

Catalonia will hold a snap election on November 25 after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas's proposals for greater taxing and spending powers for the rich but also heavily indebted northeastern region.

Mas in September had said the region should hold a referendum on "self-determination", even if Spain's central government does not allow it.

Mas has tried, so far without success, to persuade various European Union bodies to support his region's bid for independence. On Friday, he said he would be in favour of independence even if it meant Catalonia would not be part of the EU.

"If we are sure Catalonia would stay outside the EU, we need to think about whether we should do the referendum," Mas said.

"I would be in favour of doing it in any case."

Mas's nationalist conservative Convergence and Union coalition is seeking an absolute majority. Opinion polls put him close to or above the threshold 68 seats he needs.

Catalonia is Spain's most indebted region and the Spanish government has agreed to extend it 5.4 billion euros ($6.9 billion) in rescue funds.

Prime Minister Rajoy on Tuesday said the independence movement ran "against history" and "against good sense", and that it caused divisions in Catalonia.

Rajoy's People's Party has mobilised several ministers to support the candidacy of Alicia Sanchez-Camacho in the election and try to block Mas from gaining an absolute majority.

Sanchez-Camacho's slogan is: "Catalans yes, Spanish too".

Mas has previously voiced approval for a historic referendum due to be held in Scotland before the end of 2014, when Scots will vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom. The vote could lead to the breakup of the UK after 300 years.

An opinion poll published Sunday in Catalan newspaper El Periodico found that 50.9 percent of the region favours an independent Catalan state -- though support drops to 40.1 percent if independence would mean leaving the European Union.

Spain's crushing economic crisis has forced Catalonia, like most of the country's 17 regions, to adopt harsh austerity measures, including cuts to education and health spending.

The austerity regime has boosted separatist sentiment, and pro-independence demonstrators staged a mass march in Barcelona on September 11.

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