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Spain's Catalonia passes controversial film dubbing law

Spain's Catalonia region on Wednesday passed a law obliging cinemas to show at least 50 percent of foreign films either dubbed or subtitled in Catalan, in a move that has angered local cinemas.

The prosperous northeastern region's parliament passed the law by 117 for, including socialists and Catalan nationalists, and 17 against, including the right-wing opposition.

It will come into effect progressively from January 1, 2011, with the aim of having 50 percent of films using Catalan by 2018.

The region, which includes Barcelona, Spain's second largest city, accounts for about one-fifth of the country's box-office revenue, but just two percent of films from the United States or elsewhere were dubbed into Catalan in 2008.

The Catalan Association of Cinemas in January called a strike to protest the law, with its president Camillo Tarrazon saying at the time that the law would be "apocalypse now" for cinemas in the region.

"This is a law which will close theatres, which will lead to a reduction in the number of copies of films and a drop in the number of spectators," he said.

The last time the Catalan government tried to introduce similar regulations, in 1998, it was forced to back down after studios threatened to withdraw distribution in the region.

Dictator Francisco Franco banned dubbing into Catalan as well as into Spain's other regional languages, Galician and Basque, shortly after he came to power in 1939 in a bid to promote national unity but since his death in 1975 use of the three languages has flourished.

Public education in Catalonia, Spain's wealthiest region, is now carried out primarily in Catalan, while a 1998 law obliges businesses to serve clients in Catalan and have signs and information in the language.

Last December more than 160 Catalan towns held symbolic referendums on independence from Spain.

Catalonia, like other Spanish regions, already controls most aspects of government, including health and education.

Under a regional statute approved in 2006, Catalonia's regional parliament was granted enhanced powers in taxation and judicial matters as well as more control over airports, maritime ports and immigration.