Barcelona (AFP) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has called for calm as his side host Las Palmas on Sunday amid heightened political tension in Catalonia as pro-secessionist groups forge ahead with a referendum on independence for the north-eastern region of Spain.
Outspoken central defender Gerard Pique joined the club this week in backing Catalonia’s right to self-determination in the midst of Spanish government crackdowns on what it sees as an illegal vote that violates Spain’s constitution.
“What we hope for tomorrow, apart from winning the game which is important for us and Barca fans, is that there is calm,” Valverde told a press conference on Saturday.
Among a number of measures being taken to impede the referendum, 14 regional government officials were detained last week.
In response, Barca released a strongly-worded statement condemning the arrests in “the defence of the nation, to democracy, to freedom of speech, and to self-determination”.
Chants in support of independence are common at the Camp Nou in the 17th minute of each match to mark the fall of Catalonia in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714.
“Despite the impression on the outside that there is a lot of noise, people are calmer than it seems, at least that is how I see it,” added Valverde, who himself is not Catalan.
“I hope that tomorrow will be the same. We all want the same thing, for there to be respect between everyone.”
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