catalan independence
Catalan president Artur Mas has said the vote will take place in SeptemberReuters

In a challenge to Spain's Madrid-based government, Catalonia has announced that it will hold regional parliamentary elections in September – two months before the country's general election.

The vote will take place on 27 September, exactly one year after Catalan president Artur Mas signed a decree calling for an independence referendum, which was subsequently blocked in the Madrid courts.

Mas hopes the elections will produce overwhelming support for independence, thereby allowing him to make a fresh plea for autonomy to Madrid.

He told a press conference: "So one year after I signed this decree the Catalan people will have the possibility to vote for the state of Catalonia and even for an independent state.

"We will see on that date if there is a social majority in favour of this political process. This is something that the Catalan people have to decide.

"We will run with different [candidate] lists but with a common national road map."

The candidates in the election will include Mas's Convergencia party and the left-wing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya.

The elections were not due until 2016 but Mas has brought them forward boost the independence drive.

A poll by the Catalan government in December showed that the majority of people would choose to remain part of Spain.