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Ex-Barcelona star Stoichkov backs Catalans

Sofia (AFP) – Former Barcelona favourite Hristo Stoichkov on Thursday backed the independence referendum in Catalonia and denounced the violence that marred the banned vote.

“The leaders of Catalonia and the people who voted decided that the moment has come to separate and I will back them,” Stoichkov, a Bulgarian, told his country’s public broadcaster BNT.

“This is only natural. I’ve lived there for 27 years. I know what they have given me and what I have given them.”

Renowned for his sharp tongue, 51-year-old Stoichkov accused the Spanish government of being responsible for the violent clashes that erupted during Sunday’s poll in the wealthy northeastern region.

Images of Spanish police beating Catalans taking part in the vote sparked international concern.

“The world saw it. This is inadmissible,” Stoichkov said, adding that he felt “insulted and indignant”.

“I don’t care about Spain, I care about the people of Catalonia. Nobody wants blood and beatings,” he fumed.

The left-footed striker joined Barca in 1990 and scored a total of 162 goals in 336 games during an eight-year stay, which earned him a spot on Barcelona’s Dream Team.

Barcelona captain Gerard Pique has been the most prominent critic in the team of Spain’s handling of the crisis, while the club’s former manager and current Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is an outspoken supporter of Catalan independence.

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