Catalans in tight race as election looms

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionA look at the key players in Catalonia's regional election

Political rivals in Catalonia are wooing voters on the last day of campaigning before Thursday's regional election called by Spain.

Opinion polls suggest that pro- and anti-independence parties are neck-and-neck, meaning the Catalan political crisis is unlikely to be resolved.

The ousted Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, said Spain must drop its charges against him and other leading separatists if they win the election.

Spain imposed direct rule in October.

An aggregate of polls published by the daily El Pais suggests that the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) will come top, winning 33 seats, with one or two seats more than Ciudadanos (Cs), which wants unity with Spain.

Mr Puigdemont's pro-independence JxCat party is predicted to come third, getting about 27 seats. This would mean no parliamentary majority in favour of independence.

Mr Puigdemont is in self-imposed exile in Belgium and his main separatist rival, ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, is in a Spanish jail.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A JxCat rally: Carles Puigdemont campaigns via video link

In a veiled jibe at Mr Puigdemont, Mr Junqueras said he was in jail "to face the consequences" and because "I don't hide from my actions".

The separatists who dominated the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October after a controversial referendum described as illegal by the Madrid authorities.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy then sacked the Catalan government, dissolved the assembly and called the 21 December election in order to smash the separatist movement.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWhy the colour yellow is contentious in Catalonia

Spanish prosecutors accused 13 Catalan separatist politicians of rebellion and sedition, including Mr Puigdemont and four others who fled to Belgium.

Speaking on Radio Catalunya, Mr Puigdemont said he was "convinced that with their votes the Catalans will not legalise the beheading of the government".

Thursday's vote will show that Mr Rajoy's "recipe" has not worked, he predicted.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption An ERC rally: the yellow ribbon is a symbol of Catalan independence

If the separatists win the election and Spain still refuses to drop the legal cases against them, he said, "it will show disrespect for democracy".

There was a bad-tempered election debate on Catalan television on Monday night.

Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos told separatist politicians "you've ruined Catalonia". She said they ought to "get out of the republican bubble".