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Police officer killed in riots at soccer match in Italy

The Hindu
("India's National Newspaper")

February 3, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

Rome, Feb. 3 (AP): A police officer was killed and more than 70 people were injured when fans rioted at a soccer match, prompting the Italian soccer federation to postpone all league matches this weekend and cancel next week's friendlies involving the national teams.

Fans at the Serie A match between Sicilian sides Catania and Palermo rioted outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during the second half Friday night. One policeman who was injured in the melee said the violence appeared to have been planned by Catania fans who attacked supporters of the rival team.

Police fired tear gas, which wafted into the stadium and forced the match to be temporarily suspended in the 58th minute with Palermo leading 1-0. Television footage from Sky TG24 News showed players struggling to breathe and pouring bottled water on their faces.

Police said the officer died after an explosive device was thrown inside his vehicle.

The violence continued after the game, in which Palermo beat Catania 2-1, trapping hundreds of fans inside the stadium as authorities sought to avoid further violence and stop people from leaving.

Injured fans and police were taken to three different hospitals in Catania, with none in a critical condition, Italian news agencies reported Saturday.

The director of the Giuseppe Garibaldi hospital, which treated 45 of the injured, told Sky TG24 News that most were released during the early hours of the morning.

A police officer, recovering at the Garibaldi hospital, told Sky TG24 that he believed the violence was pre-planned.

``I was escorting a group of Palermo supporters to the Massimino when all of a sudden they were attacked by Catania fans. ... It was an ambush by organized guerrillas,'' Salvatore Renda said.

Italian news agencies reported that nine Catania fans had been detained, but none was suspected of killing the officer. Police in Catania could not confirm the report early Saturday as all top officials were in a meeting or out of their offices.

Federation (FIGC) commissioner Luca Pancalli called an emergency meeting in Rome late Friday, and announced he was canceling all games, the federation said.

``The decision to block the championships was immediate,'' Pancalli told a news conference after the meeting. ``We cannot continue like this. What we're witnessing has nothing to do with soccer, therefore Italian soccer is stopping.''

Italy's premier, president and other top officials quickly condemned the violence.

``I feel it is my duty to say that we unfortunately need a loud and clear signal to avoid the degeneration of the sport that we, unfortunately and dramatically, are witnessing,'' Prime Minister Romano Prodi was quoted as saying by Italian news agencies.

Prodi and President Giorgio Napolitano also said their thoughts were with the family of the officer, who was identified as 38-year-old Chief Inspector Filippo Raciti.

Napolitano released a statement urging authorities to take a firm stand ``against degenerations that demean the values of the sport and offend the country's civic conscience.''

Pancalli added that the decision to postpone the weekend's remaining games was not enough, and said there would be more meetings Monday ``to identify those drastic measures that will allow us to restart. Otherwise, we're not restarting the games.''

The FIGC also canceled Wednesday's friendly between Italy and Romania and an under-21 friendly scheduled for Tuesday against Belgium.

Police defended security measures at the game.

``We're talking about incidents that happened outside the stadium and after the game had already started,'' police Cmdr. Piero Gambuzza told Sky TG24 News. ``Police did not allow anyone with explosives to enter the stadium.''

The violence follows last month's death of a fourth-division team manager from injuries he received when he tried to stop a brawl during a game.