Police gird for separatist protest at Barcelona soccer match

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – More than 1,000 police and private security personnel were deployed Wednesday outside Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium to ensure that a protest over Catalonia’s separatist movement does not interrupt one of the world’s most-watched soccer matches.

Spanish league leader Barcelona hosts its fierce rival, No. 2 Real Madrid, and the separatists want to take advantage of the global media coverage to promote their bid for independence from Spain.

The game, known as El Clasico, was postponed from Oct. 26 because of fears that the separatists – then in the midst of a week of violent protests – would try to disrupt it.

Barcelona is the regional capital of the wealthy northeast region of Catalonia. Spain opposes any breakup of the country.

Protest organizers say that over 25,000 people have signed up to gather around the stadium and will try to get inside. Nearly 100,000 fans are expected to attend.

Organizers have not said what form the protest will take, and police said they can’t rule out an attempt by demonstrators to interrupt the match.

“The important thing is that we play the game,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Tuesday.

Hours before the kickoff at 1900 GMT (2 p.m. EST), police established a perimeter of movable metal barriers around the stadium. A special police detail will also try to ensure that the buses carrying the two teams and referees will be able to arrive on time for the kickoff.

A bus carrying the Barcelona players leaves the Camp Nou stadium, ahead of a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. Thousands of Catalan separatists are planning to protest around and inside Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium during Wednesday’s match against fierce rival Real Madrid. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)
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