'Clásico' match between Barcelona and Real Madrid postponed
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Next week's "clásico" between Barcelona and Real Madrid was postponed Friday by the Spanish soccer federation to avoid coinciding with a large separatist rally in riot-stricken Catalonia.
The federation's competitions committee said Barcelona and Madrid have until Monday to decide on another date. Both teams said later Friday they would like to play the match on Dec. 18.
The Spanish league wanted the match to be moved from Barcelona to Madrid because of security concerns, with the return match automatically switched from Madrid to Barcelona. But the competitions committee rejected that idea, saying that it was against its rules to invert the order of the games.
The federation, in consultation with government officials, said Thursday it wasn't safe to play on the same day as the rally.
The Spanish league runs the top two soccer divisions in the country, while the federation controls regulations and matches for professional and amateur games.
The northeastern Catalonia region has been rocked by violent protests each night since a Supreme Court ruled on Monday to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison. Around 400 people, half of them police officers, have been injured and over 120 arrested as radical protesters have used gasoline bombs, acid, rocks and fireworks to battle with outnumbered police.
Separatist groups have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on Oct. 26, the original date of the match.
There appear to have been fears that protests could again get out of hand and make access difficult to the Camp Nou or create disturbances during the match.
Acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said that if the match were played on Oct. 26 "there could have been security issues that conditioned the peaceful holding of the match."
Grande-Marlaska, however, added that "evidently we have the means necessary to guarantee security whenever it is played."
Barcelona said that it would have liked to play the game on the original date and that it "has the absolute confidence in the civic and peaceful attitude of its fans."
The "clásicos" are the biggest matches of the year in Spain and some of the most watched matches in the world.
Catalan independence flags are a regular feature at Barcelona's home games, as are collective shouts for "independence" by separatist supporters.
About half of Catalonia's 7.5 million residents support a break with Spain, according to polls.