Guardiola uses Man City trophy win to back Catalonia protest

Guardiola uses Man City trophy win to back Catalonia protest
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola gestures during the English League Cup final soccer match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

By Rob Harris, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola used the platform provided by his first cup success with the English Premier League team on Sunday to criticize the imprisonment of pro-independence Catalan politicians.

Guardiola defied an English Football Association charge for promoting a political message by continuing to wear a yellow ribbon in support of the jailed and exiled politicians during City's victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

"Before I am a manager, I am a human being," Guardiola said after the 3-0 victory at English soccer's national stadium.

"I accept if I broke the rules, I accept the fines."

Revered in the region following his success as a player and coach with Barcelona's soccer team, Guardiola has been wearing a yellow ribbon since Catalonia's failed secession bid in October when a banned independence referendum was held.

Thousands of the ribbons were handed out to City fans at Wembley in a show of solidarity with Guardiola's protest.

"This is a popular initiative and I'm grateful for that. I have empathy for the people who have no freedom like the situation with the guys in Catalonia," Guardiola said through a translator.

"Anyone can be in that position. There are innocent people more than 140 days in preventative jail."

Former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras is in jail along with ex-regional interior minister Joaquim Forn and the leaders of two grassroots groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. Five former Catalan Cabinet members, headed by ex-regional President Carles Puigdemont, evaded court summons by moving to Belgium after separatist lawmakers passed an illegal independence declaration.

"If they come back, they are going to be jailed," Guardiola said. "I think it's not about politicians, it's about democracy, it's about people who will give absolutely everything (for) democracy."

Guardiola's news conference after the victory started with him thanking City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh Mansour also serves as a deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs in the UAE, which Amnesty International says has "continued to arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association."

Asked about how he reconciled his strong stance in Catalonia with questions about rights issues raised in the UAE, Guardiola said: "Every country decides the way they want to live for themselves."

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