Support for Catalan independence slips: poll

People queue outside the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia building in Barcelona on December 23, 2014 in a movement to report themselves as participating in a November 9 non-binding vote on Catalan independence from Madrid (AFP Photo/Josep Lago)

Barcelona (AFP) - Support for independence in Spain's wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia has slipped, according to a Catalan government opinion poll published Friday.

The Opinion Studies Centre poll found that 50 percent of eligible voters would vote against Catalonia becoming independent from Spain while 42.9 percent are in favour.

The centre's last poll in February showed 48 percent were against Catalan independence while 44.1 percent were in favour.

The latest survey is the third since December 2014 to put opposition to Catalan independence ahead of those who favour it.

The head of the Catalan regional government, Artur Mas, plans to call a regional election in Catalonia on September 27 meant as a proxy vote on independence from Spain.

If pro-independence parties win a majority, the new Catalan government that emerges will start to negotiate independence with Madrid.

The aim would be for the negotiations to be concluded in 18 months, and pave the way for a binding independence referendum in 2016.

Mas's party and the leftist and secessionist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) would tie in first place if an election were held now, according to the Opinion Studies Centre poll.

Each party has 13.3 percent support while Spain's new anti-austerity party Podemos would come in third place with 10.8 percent support.

The survey interviewed 2,000 people June 2-24 and has a margin of error of 2.7 percent.

Catalonia, which is home to about 7.5 million people, has seen a rise in separatist sentiment at a time when its debts have forced local spending cuts and prompted renewed debate over how it is funded within Spain's regional structure.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, many Catalans say they get a raw deal from the way their taxes are redistributed to the rest of Spain.

The region accounts for a fifth of Spain's output and has an economy roughly the size of Portugal's.