Two rich Italian regions vote for more autonomy - prelim results

Two rich Italian regions vote for more autonomy - prelim results

The president of Italy's rich Lombardy regions says an overwhelming 95 percent of the vote in the northern area's autonomy referendum went to "yes" to seeking more powers and tax revenues from the national government.

Lombardy, Italy's richest region, with accounts for almost a fifth of the country's gross domestic product, and its neighbor Veneto which generates about 10 percent of national GDP, are holding referendums Sunday.

Lombardy President Roberto Maroni has told reporters in Milan that turnout for Sunday's ballot was above 40 percent - exceeding the 34 percent target that he had set for success.

The two regions, governed by the right-wing Northern League, are asking almost 15 million people, out of 60 million Italians, for greater autonomy, not independence as Spain's northeast region of Catalonia did October 1.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

"A page of history is being written", said Veneto President Luca Zaia, "Veneto will not be the same as before".

Sunday's two votes are nonbinding, but the leaders of the neighboring regions hope to leverage strong turnout in talks with Italy's government.

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"Although not threatening the unity of the State, this process risks opening a Pandora's box and setting in motion widespread centrifugal forces within Italy", said economist Lorenzo Codogno. The latter figure was the turnout for a national referendum on constitutional reform in 2001.

Around 11 million voters in Lombardy and Veneto, almost a quarter of Italy's population, are casting their ballots on Sunday in a non-binding referendum approved by the constitutional court.

Some voters in the regions took to social media to criticize the cost of running the referendums.

Lombardy sends 54 billion euros ($63 billion) more in taxes to Rome than it gets back in public spending.

The two regions would like to roughly halve those contributions by repatriating powers in up to 23 different areas.

The referendums have been called by the respective local governments both controlled by the far-right, regionalist Northern League party that is also anti-European Union.

They also want new powers relating to security issues and immigration - steps which would require changes to the constitution.

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