Separatists in northeastern Spain's Catalonia region claimed victory Sunday in local parliamentary polls that could push the region toward a faceoff with the central government over independence.
Nationalist regional president Artur Mas spoke to jubilant supporters late Sunday in Barcelona. "We have won," he told crowds of flag-waving independence backers. He spoke with more than 80 percent of the vote already tallied.
A key exit poll shows Mas's pro-independence alliance "Together for Yes" falling about five votes short of an absolute majority in the 135-member parliament needed to push toward their goal of independence by 2017. But a smaller leftist secession party known as CUP was shown likely to win another 11 to 13 seats.
Ahead of the vote, the two parties said such a result would allow them to unilaterally declare independence within 18 months.
Under that plan, Catalan authorities envision approving their own constitution, and eventually creating a Catalan central bank and judiciary.
Spain's national government in Madrid had not offered official comment on the outcome by late Sunday.
But it has blocked a series of earlier Catalan independence initiatives, including a 2006 independence declaration that the Spanish Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.
The central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said it will use all legal means to prevent secession -- a move that the European Union has warned could result in ejection from the 28-nation trade bloc.