A majority of Catalans would vote in favour of independence from Spain if a referendum on the subject were held, according to a poll published yesterday showing more support for separatism than other surveys.

The poll, whose sponsors said was more extensive than previous surveys, comes as pro-independence activists have stepped up a campaign for an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern Spanish region.

With regional elections due in the autumn, any increase in Catalan nationalism would be a headache for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, just as he struggles to convince debt markets that Spain can get its fiscal books in order.

According to the poll, carried out for the Open University of Catalonia by private company DYM which spoke to 1'883 Catalans and 2'614 non-Catalan Spaniards late last year, 50.4 percent of Catalans would vote in favour of independence if they were given the chance.

Eighteen percent say they would vote against independence for the region, which has its own culture and language, and 25 percent would abstain.