Spanish court allows Catalan flags at Copa del Rey final

MADRID -- Catalan separatists can display pro-independence flags at the Copa del Rey final on Sunday, when Barcelona will face Sevilla for the title, a Spanish court ruled on Friday.

The Madrid-based court accepted the appeal filed by Barcelona and a lawyer's association to challenge the Spanish government's ban of the flags announced earlier this week.

Government officials had argued the ban of the politically charged flags formed part of a group of security measures being implemented for the game at Vicente Calderon Stadium.

Barcelona said the ban of the estelada flag symbolising support for Catalonia's breakaway from the rest of Spain was an attack on the freedom of expression.

Pro-independence flags have become a common sight at Barcelona's home matches in recent years during an upswing of separatist sentiment in the northeastern region.

The Catalan club have been fined by UEFA because of pro-secession chants and flags displayed by their fans during Champions League matches.

The initial ban by the government sparked a debate in Spain, and was heavily criticised by politicians from Catalonia and Barcelona, the region's largest city.

Catalonia's pro-independence regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, originally responded to the government's ban of the flags by saying he would not attend the final. He then changed his stance and said he will go after the court ruled to permit the flags.

Copa del Rey finals in recent years have been used by separatists among Barcelona's large fan base to display pro-independence flags. Spain's King Felipe VI was loudly jeered by both Catalans and Basques before last year's final between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona, who repeated as La Liga champion last weekend, will be trying to also defend their Copa title.

Sevilla won their third straight Europa League title on Wednesday.

The judge's decision said: "It has at no time been proven that the display of this flag can incite violence, racism, xenophobia or any form of discrimination against human dignity."