A pro-independence protestor sits in front of Catalonia's regional parliament as lawmakers voted inside, in Barcelona, January 16, 2014. The northern Spanish region of Catalonia took a symbolic step ... more 
A pro-independence protestor sits in front of Catalonia's regional parliament as lawmakers voted inside, in Barcelona, January 16, 2014. The northern Spanish region of Catalonia took a symbolic step toward independence on Thursday with local lawmakers agreeing to petition the central government to allow a referendum on breaking away from Spain. The seething independence movement in Catalonia - which has its own language and represents a fifth of Spain's national economy - could prove the toughest challenge yet for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who dodged a sovereign default two years ago and is trying to pull Spain out of a deep recession that has put one in four workers on the dole. Rajoy says a referendum would be illegal and has pledged to block it on constitutional grounds. Independence for Catalonia, an autonomous region with significant self-governing powers, is considered a remote possibility. But an unthinkable breakup of Spain has become thinkable as Catalan President Artur Mas rides a groundswell of public support and defies Madrid with plans for a referendum. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) less 
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Reuters | Photo By ALBERT GEA / REUTERS
Thu, Jan 16, 2014 7:17 AM EST