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Controversy continues to blight Algeria

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USM Alger officials unconcerned by Saddam Hussein chants

Officials of Algerian club USM Alger have played down chants from the side's fans about Saddam Hussein at a match over the weekend that prompted a political crisis.

The Iraqi Air Force side, Nadi Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya Al-Riyadhi, abandoned the Arab Club Champions Cup quarterfinal against USMA at Omar Hamadi Stadium in Algiers on Sunday, walking off the pitch with 18 minutes to play, after the home sides' fans repeatedly chanted the name of the late Iraqi leader and reportedly also delivered anti-Shiite chants.

Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Algeria's ambassador on Monday, when Iraq's foreign affairs spokesperson Ahmed Mahjoub reportedly said that Baghdad had expressed "the government and the people of Iraq's indignation... at the glorification of the horrible face of Saddam Hussein's deadly dictatorial regime".

USM president Hakim Serrar, responded on Tuesday by saying "the songs by our supporters were not mean or insulting".

"It was just a way for them to honour the Iraqi team through its former president," Serrar said.

"The match took place in very good conditions. It was all a misunderstanding.

"The Union of Arab Football Associations [UAFA] have not contacted us. We took the initiative and explained what happened. It is a banal affair."

But the president of the Iraqi Football Association, Abdelkhaleq Messaoud, said in a statement that the federation would withdraw clubs from the Arab Champions League if UAFA did not "make the decision to respect our rights".

USM goalkeeper and captain Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche has asked the club's supporters to reconsider their chants.

"What the fans did is regrettable," Zemmamouche said when interviewed by Algerian sports channel El Heddaf.

"We were very well received during the first leg game in Iraq."

USM were winning 2-0 in Algiers, and 3-0 on aggregate, when their opponents left the field.

Both clubs are expected to face sanctions.

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