Yes votes win Veneto, Lombardy referenda (2)

2 Italian regions voting in non-binding referendum on autonomy

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could eventually lead to powers being devolved from Rome.

Secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy regions is restricted to fringe groups with little following.

Unlike the October 1 independence vote in Catalonia, the non-binding Lombardy and Veneto referendums didn't ask voters if they want to break away from Italy. In Lombardy, where results are not yet final, turnout is estimated at between 38 and 39 percent, with 95 percent backing autonomy.

Maroni said after the vote that he will present devolution proposals to the central government in Rome in the next few weeks. "The outcome of the referenda in Lombardia and Veneto confirms that there is a major demand for greater autonomy for the respective regions", Bressa said.

In a first for Italy, voting in Lombardy is being conducted on computer tablets, raising the cost of the ballot, but it should ensure an early result after polls close at 11 pm (2100 GMT). "Still, at the moment I don't expect a referendum for independence".

Both regions are run by the Northern League (LN) party, which was once openly secessionist but has lately shifted its focus to run on an anti-euro ticket in the hope of expanding its influence into the south.

"In Spain, it is not about autonomy, but a proclamation of independence in defiance of the rule of law and against the Spanish constitution".

"We chose a peaceful, legitimate path", Salvini said.

That left 15 ordinary regions under the central government's control.

"Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily", says Giuseppe Colonna, an 84-year-old Venetian.

The turnout in Veneto was around 60%, while in Lombardy it was much lower at around 40%.

Zaia and fellow Northern League member Roberto Maroni, president of the Lombardy region, argue the results of the vote will allow them to reduce the gap between tax levies sent to Rome and the value of state services they receive in return.

The two regional presidents, both members of the far-right Northern League, plan to ask for more powers over infrastructure, the environment, health and education. The Italian measures also were approved by Italy's constitutional court.

"What has won is the idea that we should be in charge of our own backyard", Luca Zaia, head of the Veneto authority and one of the main promoters of the referendums, said after the vote.



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