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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 3, 2007

Policeman's death force Italy to plot drastic moves

ROME, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has promised drastic measures to confront soccer violence after clashes by rampaging fans at a top level match left a policeman dead and as many as 150 people injured.

Prodi was forced to intervene as Italy's football stadiums fell silent on Saturday with all play in the country's leagues suspended indefinitely after 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.

He and top Italian sports officials convened a series of high-level 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 no longer send his police force 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.'

Rowdy brawls at football matches in Italy are not uncommon. But images of hundreds of hooded rioters hurling flares and firecrackers at Friday's Serie A match in Catania sparked a wave of outrage in Italy, with Italian media calling it a shameful disgrace for a nation that brought home the World Cup last year.

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

'VICIOUS CIRCLE'

Trouble at Friday's match between Palermo and Catania began with smoke -- partly from tear gas outside the stadium -- suspending play for a half hour.

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

The death came just six days after a club official died 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 wounded last night told Italian television.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC), which has indefinitely suspended all games, called for a moment of silence on Saturday and Sunday. Italy's international friendly against Romania in Siena on Wednesday has been called off.

The Italian Olympic Committee, one of Italian sport's governing bodies, will hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation. Prodi will meet top ministers on Monday, while Amato is expected to address Parliament on Tuesday.

Pressure is building for tough steps to tackle the problem. The president of the Italian Footballers' Association, Sergio Campana called for the leagues to be halted for at least a year.

His suggestion -- though unlikely to be followed -- would at least give Italian clubs the chance to modernise their old-fashioned stadiums to bring them into line with those in other top European leagues.

Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastien Frey says he is not surprised by the violence.

'There had already been several incidents with the referees last summer,' the Frenchman told sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday. 'Now violence is back around the stadiums.'

'If we go on like this people will not come to the stadiums. We are in a vicious circle.'

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.