- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Barcelona still supports Catalonia’s push to vote on secession from the rest of Spain despite warnings that independence would mean the club’s exclusion from the Spanish league.

Barecelona “was one of the first institutions to declare it was in favor of the right to decide,” it said in a statement on Friday.

Catalonia’s regional government wants to hold a nonbinding referendum on independence on Nov. 9. A Spanish court has suspended the vote to rule on its legality.

On Tuesday, the president of the Spanish football league, Javier Tebas, said Barcelona and the other football teams in the northeastern region would be excluded from Spanish competitions if Catalonia became a separate state.

Tebas said the country’s sports law entitles only one non-Spanish territory - Andorra - to legally participate in the league or other official competitions. If Catalonia were to gain independence, the law would have to be altered to let Catalan clubs, including Espanyol and second-division teams Girona and Sabadell, back in.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema said he wanted Barcelona in the league, which is historically dominated by the two rival clubs.

“We hope that Barca stays in the league,” Benzema said. “We are two great clubs, Madrid and Barcelona. We need Barcelona in the league.”

Secessionist sentiment has surged in Catalonia in recent years during Spain’s economic stagnation, and Barcelona’s Camp Nou has become a focal point of the movement with pro-independence cheers a common feature during matches.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique recently attended a massive rally in Barcelona clamoring for the Nov. 9 vote, and former coach Pep Guardiola is an independence supporter.

Polls show that while most of the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia support the vote, only around half favor ending centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain.

In April, the Spanish parliament voted down a request by Catalonia to hold the referendum, but regional lawmakers went ahead with plans and formally called the referendum last month.

The Spanish government argues that such a vote would violate the Spanish Constitution’s stipulation that only the national government can call referendums on sovereignty, and that all Spaniards are entitled to vote in such a ballot.

Legal experts expect the court to strike down the regional Catalan law that provided the legal backing for the referendum.

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