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BARCELONA, Spain – The Latest on the regional elections in Catalonia (all times local):
Voters are queuing at polling stations across Catalonia to choose lawmakers who will be tasked with electing a new regional government.
Manuel Abella, a 64-year-old retiree, says he's voting for Ciutadans (Citizens) because he sees in the upstart pro-business party a fresh alternative to both the Catalan conservatives that have embraced independence and the old guard of unionist parties.
"I want unity," Abella said after voting in a school turned into polling station in central Barcelona. "People are divided. We are at the point that we can't talk politics. A nation's flag should be a symbol of pride, but here it is the opposite. Here people jeer the flag. We have a war of flags."
Also voting in downtown Barcelona, the city's mayor Ada Colau called for a high turnout to mark "a historic day to recover institutional normality in Catalonia."
Colau's left-wing party, which favors more autonomy for Catalonia but not independence, is likely to hold the key to building a majority for a new government.
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.