OVIEDO, Spain (AP) — The Catalonia region's controversial bid for independence was an unavoidable topic Friday at the prize-giving ceremony for Spain's prestigious Princess of Asturias awards.

Spain's King Felipe VI received a standing ovation after saying in his speech that Catalonia "is and will be an essential part" of Spain.

European leaders also made indirect comments about the independence issue, which has brought a tense confrontation between Catalan secessionists and the Spanish government.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo to receive a prize on behalf of the European Union. They made clear their support for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's efforts to keep Spain united, receiving loud applause at the Campoamor theater in the Asturias region.

Other winners picking up their prize included Argentine comedians, the Hispanic Society of America museum and library, astrophysicists, South African artist William Kentridge and British scholar Karen Armstrong. The winners were announced earlier this year.

Four representatives of the New Zealand national rugby team, which won the sports prize in recognition of its success and racial and cultural integration, brought some light relief when they performed the haka — a traditional tribal dance — on stage after picking up their award.