Protests in the Spanish region of Catalonia have grown so fierce that they’ve forced the postponement of next week’s “El Clásico” match between Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona.
Major tournaments aside, there is no bigger soccer match in Spain — and perhaps the world — than Barcelona v. Madrid. But protests against the jailing of nine separatist leaders who led a 2017 independence referendum have been raging for five consecutive days, and Spain’s soccer league made an almost unthinkable call.
Spain’s La Liga said "exceptional circumstances beyond our control” forced the postponement of the rivalry match scheduled for October 26. Barca said it had confidence its fans would “express themselves in exemplary fashion," but were forced by the Spanish Football Federation to postpone the match.
Reuters reported a group of hundreds of thousands of marchers were expected to reach Barcelona on Friday. The city has already seen fierce protests and now will be joined by a massive group of reinforcements, who’ve been on the move from all corners of Catalonia for days, chanting “freedom for political prisoners.”
Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced the Catalan leaders to up to 13 years in prison on Monday, and protests and riots quickly followed. Protesters in Barcelona chanted “the streets will always be ours” and reportedly tossed gasoline bombs and stones at police.
"We condemn violence," said Quim Torra, president of the Catalan region, according to BBC News. "There is no reason nor justification for burning cars, nor any other vandalism."
The wealthy region of Catalonia has a complicated history with the rest of Spain, and F.C. Barcelona is entwined in that history. Catalonia has its own language and flag — a flag that’s featured in the club’s crest and is often displayed by fans at matches — and has complained for years about sending too much in taxes to the rest of the country. Amid that tension, F.C. Barcelona has been a steady symbol of Catalan pride, and for years, fans have chanted “independencia” during matches.
Cover: Protesters match into the city on the fifth day of protests over the conviction of a dozen Catalan independence leaders in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Various flights into and out of the region are cancelled Friday due to a general strike called by pro-independence unions and five marches of tens of thousands from inland towns are expected converge in Barcelona's center on Friday afternoon for a mass protest with students to and workers who are on strike. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)