Catalan separatists have claimed victory in a crucial snap election Thursday that could decide the future of Spain and its northern province.With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, the three secessionist parties together had won enough votes for 70 seats in the 135-seat assembly.

But the Citizens party, which wants Catalonia to remain a semiautonomous part of Spain, appeared to be on track to become the biggest single party, with 35 seats in the parliament. As a result, it was unclear who would be given the right to form a government.

The Spanish government called the election after seizing control of the Catalan administration, following a disputed independence referendum in October. Since then, several independence leaders have been jailed or gone into exile. Many have campaigned during the election period via video link.

The leader of the separatist movement, Carles Puigdemont, who is in exile, told a rally in Brussels that "the Spanish state has been defeated.''The heated independence debate appeared to have brought out voters in big numbers. At one polling station in the central Barcelona district of Eixample, officials told VOA that by lunchtime, the number of voters was roughly double that of the figure in regional elections two years...