Barcelona fans whistle Spanish anthem amidst flag row

Madrid (AFP) – Sections of supporters of Catalan giants Barcelona whistled the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final in Madrid on Sunday, just days after authorities tried to ban Catalan seperatist flags from the match.

An initial ban on the “Estelada” flag was lifted on appeal after a judge concluded it could not be proven to “incite violence, racism, xenophobia or any other form of discrimination” as had been claimed by Community of Madrid authorities.

Thousands of Barca fans waved the Estelada flag, the repression of which the club had described as “an attack on the freedom of expression.”

Even more vociferous whistling of the anthem and the Spanish King Felipe VI at last season’s Cup final at Barca’s Camp Nou stadium saw the club hit with a 66,000 euro ($74,000) fine by the country’s Higher Sports Council.

The controversy over the flag ban dominated headlines in Spain just five weeks before a repeat general election in which the ruling conservative Popular Party is once again presenting itself as the best guarantor of national unity.

One of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions with its own language and customs, Catalonia enjoys a large degree of freedom in education, health and policing. 

But fed up after years of demands for greater autonomy on the taxation front — complaining it pays more to Madrid than it gets back — the region has veered towards separatism.

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