By Pilar Suarez
Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta has stoked up tensions ahead of Sunday's Clasico by claiming that "independence is a right" for the Catalan people.
Over a million Catalans took to the streets on their national day, La Diada, last September 11th, in a call for independence from Spain, and Barcelona fans have planned chants for Sunday's Clasico clash, starting on 17 minutes and 14 seconds, to signify the year of 1714, when Catalan troops were defeated at the Siege of Barcelona by the army of Philip V of Spain following 14 months of battle.
Laporta, who has long called for independence and is now a politician and Member of Parliament with the Democracia Catalana party, says the Spanish government is 'impoverishing' the region.
"It's obvious that Catalan people want independence. You just have to see how many people went out on the streets," he told Goal.com in an exclusive interview. "It was a message to the politicians and they should act as soon as possible, considering dependency on the Spanish government is impoverishing Catalunya in both social and economic terms.
"Independence is our right, and it shouldn't need to be asked for - it should be directly done the democratic way".
Polls in both the Spanish and Catalan press, however, have revealed only around half of the Catalan population would vote for independence, despite the huge protests last month.
|"Barcelona will play in a competitive league for sure, even if we get independence. And we will keep winning Champions Leagues, Club World Cups"
- Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta
But Laporta, who was Barcelona president between 2003 and 2010, believes the Catalan club would continue to form part of a competitive competition, even if independence is achieved.
"Barcelona will play in a competitive league for sure, even if we get independence," he explained. "And we will keep winning Champions Leagues, Club World Cups ... Look at Monaco: they play in the French league and they can play in Europe as well. Our case could be similar. And don't forget we also could play in a Catalan league, as we have many competitive teams."
Nevertheless, the former lawyer agrees it is in Barcelona's interests to remain in La Liga.
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Returning to strictly football matters, the 50-year-old praised new coach Tito Vilanova, despite previously criticising his appointment following the departure of Pep Guardiola.
"Tito Vilanova is a great coach for Barcelona," he said. "If I was the president, we would have probably made the same decision. Tito is a friend of mine and I have a great relationship with him. However, I still think the choice was a panic measure, so they could avoid the pressure from the Camp Nou after Guardiola left."
Whatever the reasons, Vilanova has led Barca to six straight successes so far in La Liga and his former boss is confident the new coach can oversee another win in the Clasico on Sunday, saying the Catalans boast a better team than their eternal enemy.
"Of course [we can win]," he enthused. "I hope we can get the victory in the Clasico. We have a better
team than Real Madrid and, besides, it comes at an historic moment for Catalunya."