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Nov 15, 2006

Argentina ban away fans in a bid to curb violence

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 15 (Reuters) - The Argentina Football Association (AFA) has banned away fans from all first division matches for the rest of the year in a bid to curb crowd violence which has played havoc with the championship.

The decision was announced in a statement after a meeting of the AFA executive committee late on Tuesday and two days after the Independiente-Racing Club clash became the latest game to be halted by crowd trouble.

'This is one of most viable decisions which could be taken at this moment,' AFA president Julio Grondona told reporters.

Earlier, the Buenos Aires provincial government announced that the weekend's derby between Racing Club and San Lorenzo would be played behind closed doors in La Plata, around 60 km from Buenos Aires.

'The decision has been taken and there's no turning back,' said Gustavo Lugones, an official with the government's agency for security at sporting events known as COPROSEDE.

Argentine football is facing a crisis after a series of incidents.

Sunday's match at Independiente was called off by referee Horacio Elizondo in the 64th minute as Racing fans in the away section clashed with riot police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas.

It was the third match to be called off because of crowd trouble since the season began in August.

Another match was postponed at 48 hours' notice because of a row over a court order banning around 12 suspected hooligans from attending and one more called off half an hour before kickoff, with the stadium already full, due to a floodlight failure.

In another incident, the Gimnasia-Boca Juniors match was abandoned at halftime on Sept 10. after referee Daniel Gimenez said he had been threatened in his dressing room by Gimnasia president Juan Jose Munoz.

The second half was played last week when Boca, trailing 1-0, won 4-1, helped by a controversial penalty awarded by Gimenez and two goals scored amid suspicions off offside.

On the following day, public prosecutors announced an investigation into media reports that Gimnasia players had received death threats from a group of their own supporters demanding they lose the match.

The fans reportedly believed a Gimnasia win would help their arch-rivals Estudiantes, who are challenging Boca for the title.

Boca have a four-point lead over Estudiantes at the top of the Apertura championship. River Plate are third seven points behind the leaders,

River coach Daniel Passarella called for the championship to be abandoned after his side lost to Estudiantes at the weekend.

'This championship is a disgrace,' he said. 'I said one month ago that the championship was not serious and time will prove me right. We lost the championship in the boardroom.'