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June 29, 2017

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Catalan anti-independence enclave clings to Spain

BADALONA, Spain--Red and yellow Spanish flags fly proudly in the town of Badalona as thousands flock to watch the national basketball team play.

Separatist urges may have surged here in the northeastern Catalonia region, where leaders are vowing a vote on independence, but this is one corner that clings to Spain.

"I feel proud to be Spanish and proud to be Catalan," said Javier Vargas, a 41-year-old engineer. "I do not have to choose between them."

The mood in Badalona stands in contrast to many nearby towns where the striped Catalan flag prevails, hung by those who want Catalonia to break away from the rest of the country.

"In and around Badalona, the vast majority of citizens want to continue being both Catalan and Spanish," said the town's mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol.

"When I walk down the street, 95 percent of the people I meet talk to me not about the vote nor about independence, but about their everyday problems."

This old fishing town just north of Barcelona, now the region's third most populous city with 220,000 inhabitants, is one of the few Catalan municipalities governed by Spain's ruling Popular Party.

That conservative grouping and the Catalan centrist party Citizens are the leading opponents of regional president Artur Mas, who has called for the referendum on independence for Nov. 9.

The Catalonia government's latest poll indicated that 47 percent of Catalans would vote for independence and 28 percent against.

Madrid has branded the planned vote unconstitutional.

Proud of their distinct Catalan language and culture, many of the region's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the national government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.

Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy but it was hit hard by the financial crisis that broke out in 2008.

Opponents of secession think cutting themselves off from Spain would be an economic disaster.

"Why would we want independence? We would die of hunger," said one resident of Badalona, Maria Lopez, 67. "If they make me vote on it, I plan to say no loud and clear."

'Dead end'

Demonstrations in favor of independence have brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets in recent years.

Now the anti-separatists have started to mobilize too. A new movement, the Catalan Civil Society (SCC), has gained 16,000 signatures of support for staying part of Spain.

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