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Police withdraw from Schalke

North Rhine-Westphalia home secretary Ralf Jager has withdrawn all police presence from the Schalke stadium until further notice.

Schalke fans react angrily to police intervention during the game against PAOK Salonika.
A disagreement between Schalke and the police began in their Champions League qualifier against PAOK Salonika.

The measure, which has been heavily criticised by German media, politicians and fans, stems from a disagreement which began during the Royal Blues’ Champions League play-off first-leg against PAOK Salonika in August, when a group of 100 police entered the Nordkurve section of Schalke’s Veltins Arena to remove an offensive flag.

The police action left over 80 people needing to be treated by the German Red Cross following the extensive use of tear gas.

Schalke condemned the actions as "excessive “but police had claimed "those were the appropriate steps to not further put the life of innocent bystanders into danger."

In the aftermath of the incident on Schalke’s Nordkurve, Borussia Dortmund fans declared their solidarity with Schalke fans -- a solidarity unprecedented in the history of the clubs, whose fans have one of the biggest rivalries in European football.

Several politicians had called for an extensive review of the police action and -- on Thursday -- the incident at Schalke, a suburb of Gelsenkirchen, was made a topic in the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) home affairs select committee in Dusseldorf.

During the debate Jager announced that all police will be withdrawn from the Schalke Arena until further notice.

"The club now has to ensure safety," Jager said, adding that the police will wait in a ready room outside the club perimeters. "And when there is a danger for life and limb, a risk for a third-party, then we will intervene."

When Jager announced his decision Schalke general manager Horst Heldt was doing his weekly pre-match press conference and he admitted to being taken by surprise, when asked by reporters for his reaction.

He said: "I don’t have any information about that. I can’t see that happening."

Earlier, Schalke chief financial officer Peter Peters had claimed that the club and police "are in constructive talks."

The announcement, just over a week before the general election in Germany, where Jager’s Social Democrats are currently trailing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has been heavily criticised by German media, politicians and fans.

"It can only be accounted for by using Schalke as a warning to others because Schalke dared to criticise a police action and thus indirectly also the home secretary,” CDU member Wolfgang Bosbach, the chairman of the Bundestag home affairs select committee told Kolner Stadtanzeiger.

Frank Baranowski of the SDP, said: "That Jager makes this decision without coordinating it with those on site and without waiting for the result of the ongoing talks between club and police tops it all."

Police researcher Thomas Feltes labelled the decision "unlawful and irresponsible," while the conservative German broadsheet FAZ commented that Jager had "overreacted."

A Borussia Dortmund fanzine reported from the committee meeting with the headline "Fairytale and crime thriller in Dusseldorf" and justified their extensive coverage of the Schalke incident -- that was recently awarded the “Blog Of The Month” by the German Football news site Fokus Fussball -- by writing that in this case it did not matter what club it is adding that it is the concern of every football fan.

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