Pro-independence parties have won an absolute majority in elections in the Spanish region of Catalonia, dealing a blow to the Spanish government under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The election was called after Madrid sacked the Catalan government and arrested many secessionist leaders, after they tried to declare independence following a disputed referendum in October.
WATCH: Pro-independence wins
Independence supporters gathered to celebrate the results Thursday night, as it became clear that the three pro-secessionist parties kept their overall majority by two seats.
Marta Rovira, secretary general of the Catalan Republic Left party, which won 32 seats, demanded the release of the jailed independence leaders.
"The republican and independence forces have again won the Catalan elections. We have won! Freedom! Freedom! The people have voted for freedom, for the government to return from exile!" Rovira told cheering supporters.
Among those in exile is former Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October. In a defiant speech after the result, he pledged to return to Barcelona.
"Firstly, as president of Catalonia, I would like to congratulate the Catalan population for this great lesson in civicism and democracy: a record turnout, historic participation and a turnout which has led to a result that no one can dispute," Puigdemont said.
However, the result was not as emphatic as many had hoped, with the independence parties winning two fewer seats than in the previous election in 2015.
For the first time, a pro-Spanish unity party – Ciudadanos or "Citizens" – won the election, but was short of the numbers needed to form a government.
Prime Minister Rajoy had called on Catalan voters to restore political normality. Instead, they overwhelmingly rejected his Popular Party, which lost eight of its 11 seats.
The pro-independence parties will now seek to form a coalition government in Catalonia – and some party leaders say they now have a mandate to demand a legitimate referendum on independence from Madrid.
Spain, and Europe, had hoped that the election would end the political crisis. But the breakaway movement appears to be re-energized.