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By ESPN Staff

Officer's death in riot brings Italian soccer to halt

ROME -- Months after a game-fixing scandal shook Italian soccer, the sport was rocked again when rioting by fans left a police officer dead and scores of people injured.

The mayhem, during a game between Sicilian teams Catania and Palermo, prompted soccer officials to suspend this weekend's matches -- the first time that has happened in more than a decade.

The Italian soccer federation also canceled Wednesday's exhibition game between Italy and Romania, and threatened to extend the suspension.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi promised drastic measures and a "radical change."

"People must understand that there must be a turning point," he said. "We can't keep risking the lives of law police officers."

Michel Platini, the newly elected president of European soccer's governing body, promised to work with Italy to end the violence.

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato and Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri are to meet Monday to discuss long-term measures. Amato, in charge of the country's police, said he would not send officers to stadiums under existing conditions.

The violence comes just months after celebrations following the national team's World Cup victory in Germany last summer.

"Policeman killed, soccer under shock," read the headline of Italy's top newspaper Corriere della Sera. "We are talking about a cancer, not a seasonal flu," wrote Gianni Mura, a leading soccer commentator, in Saturday's La Repubblica.

In a country where soccer is a religion for many, the Vatican paper also weighed in, calling the police officer's death "unacceptable folly."

"Let's acknowledge this: soccer in Italy dies last night with the policeman," said L'Osservatore Romano.

The rioting outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium started during the second half. Police fired tear gas that wafted into the stadium and forced a delay.

Chaos resumed after the game, in which Palermo beat Catania 2-1. Hundreds of fans were trapped inside the stadium as authorities sought to avoid further violence. About 100 people were injured, according to RAI state-run TV.

Police detained 22 fans, including nine minors, and sealed off the stadium, reports said. None was suspected of killing the officer.

The officer, 38-year-old Chief Inspector Filippo Raciti, died after an explosive device was thrown into his vehicle, police said.

It was the second soccer-related death in less than a week, after a fourth-division team manager died last Saturday from injuries he received when he tried to stop a brawl during a game. The most recent death in the top league was in 1995, when a Genoa fan was stabbed to death before his team played AC Milan.

Violence is not new to this soccer-crazed country. Fans have been caught throwing flares, coins or other objects that sometimes hit players or referees. In 2001, Inter Milan fans rode a moped up to and around the mezzanine level of Milan's San Siro stadium. They then pushed the riderless bike down concrete stairs, sending fans dodging.

In 2005, Silvio Berlusconi's government passed tougher measures, including tickets with holders' names printed on them and video surveillance at stadiums with more than 10,000 seats.

Last year, soccer officials were engulfed in trouble of a different sort -- the worst game-fixing scandal in decades that left millions of fans disillusioned and angry. Powerhouse Juventus was demoted while four other Serie A teams started the season with point deductions.

Even then there were suggestions that leagues should be halted until soccer was properly cleaned up, but play resumed late last year as usual.

The president of the players' association, Sergio Campana, had said soccer should shut down for a year. Given the business revolving around soccer, the proposal was little more than provocation. Many now wonder how to address the problem.

Marcello Lippi, Italy's World Cup winning coach, said teams must take more responsibility.

"The clubs should say to their fans that instead of acquiring players to reinforce their teams, the money is directed to guarantee safety, just like they do in England," Lippi told the ANSA news agency Saturday.

Soccer in Britain was plagued by hooliganism throughout the 1970s and '80s. English teams were banned from European competition for five years after 39 people were killed at the 1985 European Cup final in Belgium when Liverpool fans charged their Juventus counterparts and a stadium wall collapsed.

After another stadium disaster in 1989, the British government passed legislation to improve safety. All-seat stadiums were introduced, along with strict ticketing arrangements, registration of known hooligans and controls on alcohol.