Spain watches as divided Catalans vote in polarized election

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Polls have opened across Catalonia in a hotly contested election aimed at breaking a bitter deadlock over the region's independence drive.

Voting began at 9 a.m. Thursday and the nearly 2,700 polling stations will remain open until 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

The vote was called by Spain's central authorities after they seized control of the northeastern region in late October. It will be closely watched beyond the country's borders.

Opinion polls have shown fugitive and jailed separatist candidates neck-and-neck in opinion polls with unionists, who claim to be in the best position to return Catalonia to stability and growth.

With a record turnout expected, the more than one-fifth who are undecided among the 5.5 million eligible voters could shift the election outcome.