Catalans prefer more autonomy over full independence from Spain: poll

MADRID (Reuters) - Catalans would prefer more autonomy for their northeastern region of Spain, where separatist sentiment has been on the rise, over outright independence, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

Calls for secession in the wealthy Catalonia region of 7.5 million people have grown during a recent deep recession and cuts in public spending, stirring a national debate that has become a headache for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

While 46 percent of Catalans continue to favor separatism versus 42 percent who wish to remain within Spain, if offered a third option of increased autonomy, 40 percent would vote in favor versus 31 percent who would still prefer independence, the Metroscopia poll published in newspaper El Pais showed.

Catalans have demanded a referendum on secession from Spain, a vote that Rajoy has pledged to block in the courts saying that it would be unconstitutional.

Even though a majority of Catalans believe that independence is still a remote possibility, they also believe they should have a say in the matter, the Metroscopia poll of 1,000 people showed.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Susan Fenton)