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Italy vows drastic action to curb violence

February 04, 2007 09:59 IST

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has promised drastic measures to confront soccer violence after a policeman died in clashes between rampaging fans at a Serie A match in Sicily.

Prodi intervened after all play in the country's leagues was suspended indefinitely following the nation's second soccer-related death in a week.

"We cannot continuously put the lives of police officers at risk and need a remedy that makes soccer clubs feel responsible (for fans' actions) and radically changes the situation," Prodi told reporters in Bologna.

The prime minister and sports officials convened a series of meetings to hammer out emergency measures to curb future hooliganism.

But a quick resumption of matches appeared unlikely, with Interior Minister Giuliano Amato saying he would not send police to matches under existing conditions.

"Enough is enough," he told Italian television. "Violence is everywhere, but violence in the stadiums connected to a game -- I find that truly unacceptable."

Brawls at matches in Italy are not uncommon. But images of hundreds of hooded rioters taking on police with flares, wooden sticks and firecrackers in Catania on Friday triggered outrage.

Local media called it a shameful disgrace for a nation that brought home the World Cup last year, while the Vatican said the riot scenes resembled war zones like Baghdad and Beirut.

"Soccer in Italy died yesterday evening along with the policeman," said l'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The violence was also a blow to Italy's bid to host the 2012 European Championships -- with La Stampa newspaper calling for Italy to withdraw from the race.

TEAR GAS

The trouble at the match between Catania and island rivals Palermo began with smoke, partly from tear gas fired outside the stadium, suspending play for half an hour.

Violent clashes between rioters and police lasted for hours after the game, during which a large firecracker exploded in the face of 38-year old police officer Filippo Raciti. He died as he arrived at hospital. More than 70 people were injured.

Six days earlier, a club official was killed in a fight after an amateur match in the southern town of Luzzi.

"You can't be allowed to kill a policeman and leave two children as orphans just because you think you have the right to root for your team," Salvatore Renda, a policeman who was injured on Friday, told Italian television.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC), which ordered the indefinite suspension of matches, called for a minute of silence on Saturday and Sunday. Italy's friendly against Romania in Siena on Wednesday was called off.

The Italian Olympic Committee will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation. Prodi will meet ministers on Monday to propose new measures, while Amato is expected to address Parliament on Tuesday.

RADICAL CHANGES

The president of the Italian Footballers' Association, Sergio Campana, called for the leagues to be halted for at least a year, while Italy's sports minister and other officials said the games will not resume unless there are radical changes.

Raciti was the 13th person to be killed in or around Italy's football stadiums since 1962. The last fatality at a Serie A match happened in 1995 when a Genoa fan was stabbed to death before a game against AC Milan.

(Additional reporting by Antonella Ciancio and Roberto Bonzio in Milan, Philip Pullella and Gavin Jones in Rome and Julien Pretot in Paris)

James Eve and Deepa Babington
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