- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - 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 lawyers’ association to challenge the Spanish government’s ban of the flags this week.

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

Barcelona issued a statement to express its satisfaction with the court’s decision to strike down the ban of the “estelada” flag, which symbolizes support for Catalonia’s breakaway from the rest of Spain.

It said the government’s attempt to prohibit the flags “represented an attempt to attack 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 has been fined by UEFA because of pro-secession chants and flags displayed by its fans during Champions League matches.

The initial ban by the government sparked a debate in Spain, and was heavily criticized by politicians from Catalonia and Barcelona, the region’s largest city, as well as Madrid’s own mayor.

Catalonia pro-independence regional leader Carles Puigdemont and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau originally responded to the government’s ban of the flags by saying they would not attend the final.

On Friday, they changed their stance and said they will go after the court ruling.

“The Spanish government . has failed in its attempt to impede the freedom of expression of thousands of Catalans who wanted to display the estelada flag,” Puigdemont said.

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, which repeated as Spanish league champion last weekend, will be trying to also defend its cup title.

Sevilla won its third straight Europa League title on Wednesday.

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