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By ESPN Staff

Argentine players back down from strike threat

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Argentine footballers, who had contemplated boycotting the weekend's matches as a response to the problems that have wrought havoc on the championship, backed down on Friday saying they were afraid.

'The fixtures will go ahead as programmed,' said Sergio Marchi, a director of the players' union. 'We hope there are no incidents, otherwise it is unlikely we will keep playing.'

'The players are afraid of this situation and this was an alert to the authorities, who we hope will find some solutions.'

The captains and leading players from most first division teams were reported to be present at the meeting to discuss the violence and intimidation that has plagued the Apertura championship since it started in August.

They included Estudiantes midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, Boca Juniors striker Martin Palermo and River Plate midfielder Marcelo Gallardo.

Three matches have been interrupted by rioting fans since August while a fourth, between Gimnasia-La Plata and leaders Boca Juniors, was abandoned at halftime on Sept 10. when the referee said he had been threatened by the president of the home team.

Gimnasia were leading 1-0 at the time but, when the remaining 45 minutes were played 10 days ago, capitulated and conceded four goals to lose 4-1.

The following day, public prosecutors launched an investigation into allegations that Gimnasia players received death threats from their own fans who demanded they lose the game.

The Gimnasia fans wanted to damage the title chances of the team's arch-rivals Estudiantes, who are Boca's nearest challengers.

On Sunday, the Independiente-Racing derby was called off in the second half as police used rubber bullets and tear gas to bring rioting Racing supporters under control.

On Tuesday, the Argentina Football Association (AFA) banned away fans from all first division games for the rest of the year while local authorities ordered the weekend's San Lorenzo-Racing Club match to be played behind closed doors.

On Wednesday, public prosecutors interviewed the Gimnasia players, who denied receiving death threats. However, the prosecutors said the investigations would continue.

Argentine football has been plagued by violence for years as well as suspicions that some matches have been fixed, often by teams wanting to stop their arch-rivals winning the championship.

Marchi said he hoped the decision to ban away fans would be a stop-gap measure.

'We are stopping a lot of people, who want to watch football in peace, from going to the stadiums,' he said.

'This is an Argentine phenomenon,' he added. 'We do everything we can to stop people from going to the stadium but they keep going.'