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  1. Separatists on course to win snap election called by Spain
  2. Madrid called vote after Catalonia declared independence
  3. Some saw election as proxy referendum on secession
  4. Record turnout of above 80%
  5. Final results expected around 2300 GMT

Live Reporting

By Ellis Palmer, Vanessa Barford and Patrick Jackson

All times stated are UK

Live coverage paused

We are now pausing our live coverage following Thursday's election in Catalonia.

A pro-Spanish unity party has won the most seats but separatist parties will together be able to form a majority in parliament.

The results are a setback for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who had imposed direct rule over the region after its illegal independence declaration.

For the latest updates see our main news story.

Voters party into the night

Catalan election: Party atmosphere amid political stand-off

'Avoid conflict and govern within the law

In an opinion piece, the Spanish daily El Pais says the regional elections have failed to create clarity in Catalonia's "exhausted and fractured" society.

It says, however, that in the popular vote the separatists have failed to achieve a clear majority - the three main independence parties have about 48% of the total vote.

It calls on politicians to avoid the path of social conflict, adding: "Instead, the winners should do something as simple as that for which every politician is elected - to govern, from the institutions and within the law."

EU stance towards Catalonia 'unchanged'

The European Commission says that its stance towards Catalonia remains the same.

The executive arm of the EU has previously stated that events in Catalonia are an internal issue for Spain.

"Our position on the question of Catalonia is well known and has been regularly restated, at all levels. It will not change," commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein told AFP news agency.

"In relation to a regional election, we have no comment to make," he added.

'Wait to see who wants to form a coalition'

In an interview with the Catalan broadcaster TV3, the leader of the liberal unionist Citizens party, Inés Arrimadas has said that, despite the fact that the separatist parties appear to have won a absolute majority, her party "would wait and see who wants to form a coalition in the coming weeks".

'The right to be listened to'

Carles Puigdemont, the sacked president of the Spanish region of Catalonia has said that tonight's result "shows that the Catalan people have won the right to be listened to".

Separatist victory 'beyond dispute'

Carles Puigdemont told a news conference in Brussels that the Catalan regional election was a victory for separatist parties "which no-one can dispute".

Party breakthrough

Inés Arrimadas, leader of the Citizens party in Catalonia, has made a triumphant speech in the Placa d'Espanya in Barcelona despite the unionists' overall failure to win a majority in parliament.

"For the first time, a unionist party has won an election to the Catalan parliament," she said after Citizens won the largest share of seats.

'Rajoy's method has failed'

Carles Puigdemont is continuing his speech in Brussels.

He says that "(Prime Minister) Rajoy's method has failed to stop the independence movement".

"Despite the difficulties we have faced, the absolute majority of independence continues, he said."

'Catalan republic has won'

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, speaking in Belgium, says that the "Catalan republic has won" Thursday's election.

'Our goal is independence'

Alfred Bosch, an ERC leader in Barcelona, said his party wanted nothing less than independence.

"Our goal is a Catalan republic," he told BBC World Service's Newshour programme.

"We want to do it democratically with all the people voting and being able to participate in that and the response of the Spanish government is violence, police violence, putting people in jail for political motives, so we're not very happy at that. Despite all this, we accepted these elections, not because we accept who called them and how they called them, but because we accept the citizens and we accept their verdict."

Unionist leader unbowed

Concession of defeat

In the last few minutes, the leaders of the Popular Party, the Socialists, and In Common We Can have accepted that the separatist parties won a majority in the election.

Million-voter party

Citizens party supporters in Barcelona

The unionists may have lost but their leading party, Citizens, is projected to have won more than a million votes.

Raising the banner

A Catalan independence flag in Barcelona

Separatists are celebrating in Barcelona tonight, proudly waving the lone-star flag of independence.

'Not proud'

The leader of the Popular Party in Catalonia, Xavier Garcia Albiol, has conceded his party will "mostly likely be in opposition".

In a press conference in Barcelona, he said "it was a bad day for the party" and that he was "not proud of the party's results".

'Bring back Puigdemont'

One of the key grassroots groups in the independence drive has been the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), whose leader Jordi Sànchez is in prison on remand.

Deputy leader Agustí Alcoberro said the ANC demanded the restoration of Catalonia's sacked government led by Carles Puigdemont "immediately".

Mr Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

'In the face of repression'

It's a very good result for the separatists, Jordi Sole, an MEP for Catalonia's ERC party, told BBC World Service's Newshour programme.

"It seems that pro-independence parties have big chances to keep the absolute majority of seats in the Catalan parliament, in the new parliament which in the face of repression, in the face of having candidates in jail and in exile, after all we have been through these last weeks it seems to us a very, very good result," he said.

Separatists declare victory

Smiles in Brussels

Carles Puigdemont in Brussels

The sacked Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemiont (centre), has been savouring the results with his allies in the Belgian capital.

They are wearing yellow ribbons in solidarity with the other Catalans in prison in Spain for their part in the independence drive.

85% of the votes counted

Unionist Citizens are still on course to be the biggest party - but the separatist parties might have the numbers to be able to form a coalition.

Here are the provisional results in terms of seats:

  • Citizens - 36
  • Together for Catalonia - 34
  • Republican Left of Catalonia - 32
  • Socialists - 17
  • In Common We Can - 8
  • Popular Unity - 4
  • Popular Party - 4

There's a total of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament - 68 seats are needed for a majority.

'Time for dialogue'

A spokesman for Mr Rajoy's Popular Party, José Ramón García Hernández, says the message of the election is that it's time to talk.

"When a society is divided you cannot be the element of division, you have to be the element of union," he told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme.

"And I think we open a new era of dialogue, a real dialogue."

Bad night for Rajoy

If you're just joining us, it appears the voters of Catalonia have returned separatist parties to power by a narrow margin, in a snub to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

With more than 80% of votes counted, parties that favour independence are ahead. Interim turnout figures show a record number of people voted.

The election was called by Mr Rajoy's government, which deployed hitherto unused constitutional powers to assert control over the region.

An unassailable lead?

Puigdemont's promise

Citizens still confident

Puigdemont pulls ahead

Carles Puigdemont in Brussels, 21 December

One surprise in the partial official results is that Carles Puigdemont's list has overtaken its rival for the separatist crown, the ERC. The exit poll had put the ERC well ahead.

But there are still a lot of ballots to count.

Half way there...

With over 50% of the votes counted, the provisional results - in terms of seats - are the following:

  • Citizens - 35
  • Together for Catalonia - 34
  • Republican Left of Catalonia - 32
  • Socialists - 18
  • In Common We Can - 8
  • Popular Unity - 4
  • Popular Party - 4

There's a total of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament - 68 seats are needed for a majority.

BreakingSeparatists on track to win

With 30% of votes counted, separatist parties are on course to win an absolute majority in the new Catalan parliament.

Ballot papers

The less popular party?

If the exit poll proves anywhere accurate, then Spain's governing conservative Popular Party (PP) has fallen to a new low of 3-5 seats.

This could be a really bad night for the PP but it may turn out that many of their voters switched tactically to Citizens in order to ensure a strong showing for unionist parties.

Cava on ice?

The magnitude sinks in

Kevin Connolly, BBC Europe Correspondent

Voters queue to cast their ballots outside a polling station in Parets del Valles, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, 21 December 2017

Counting is under way in an election that will shape the immediate political future here in Catalonia and have a huge impact in wider Spanish society.

The poll was called by the Spanish government to resolve a constitutional crisis triggered by the region's unlawful independence referendum in October.

Turnout figures suggest that supporters and opponents of independence alike recognise the magnitude of what's at stake.

For both sides in Catalonia, the problem is that there's no guarantee this election will resolve the region's constitutional crisis.

If the new parliament is evenly balanced between unionists and separatists, the search for a solution will continue.

Bad news for Puigdemont?

ERC activists gather in Barcelona, 21 December
ERC politicians await the results in Barcelona

If the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) ends up as the largest separatist party, it raises questions about whether Carles Puigdemont, who leads a rival party, can return as the region's leader, even if he were free to do so.

The ERC's own leader, Oriol Junqueras, is on remand, facing Spanish charges over the independence declaration in October.

Official turnout figures are in...

Bustle in Brussels

News crews are waiting to hear reaction from Catalonia's sacked leader, Carles Puigdemont.

View more on twitter

Anticipation builds

What happened last time?

Graphic showing results from the September 2015 Catalan elections.

At the September 2015 election, the separatist parties managed to secure a majority to govern the region but it was complicated.

The mainstream separatist parties ran as a united list – Together for Yes - but failed to win an overall majority and, once in government, had to rely on a confidence-and-supply agreement with the anti-EU CUP.

Biggest party question

If the exit poll from La Vanguardia is anything like the final result in Catalonia, it could pose an interesting question as to who has the right to form the region's next government.

Normally, the largest party has the right to have the first stab at forming a government - according to the exit poll, this would probably be the unionist party Citizens.

However, the separatist parties may insist they have the right to try first, if they have the largest number of seats overall.

Exit poll in detail

Catalonia's El Nacional news site, which is strongly pro-independence, has a handy breakdown in English of the findings in La Vanguardia's poll.

The poll was based on 3,200 telephone surveys carried out up until 19:00 (18:00 GMT) today.

View more on twitter

A bit more detail about that exit poll...