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By ESPN Staff

Testimony raises doubts over Raciti murder

ROME, April 6 (Reuters) - The Italian policeman killed in February during clashes with soccer fans in Sicily was hit by a reversing police car and that, rather than rioters, may be what caused his death, a defence lawyer said on Friday.

The lawyer for the 17-year old boy accused of killing Filippo Raciti on February 2 in Catania cited testimony by a fellow policeman, who said that he had hit something with the car while reversing away from firecrackers thrown by fans.

The policeman's testimony was printed by Italian magazine L'Espresso on Friday and prompted politicians from both Prime Minister Romano Prodi's coalition and the opposition to call for the claims to be investigated.

In the testimony given to police on Feb. 5, the policeman said he could not see properly because of thick smoke.

'I heard a knock against the car and I saw Raciti, who was (outside the car) on my left ... put his hands on his head. I stopped the vehicle and saw a couple of colleagues assisting him to prevent him from falling to the ground,' he said.

Defence lawyer Giuseppe Lipera told Reuters the testimony shed a different light on the death of the policeman.

'I think that the boy has nothing to do with this. The link with the (car) accident seems very plausible,' he said.

Politicians called on the government to investigate the claims at a time when Italian police are under fire for alleged heavy-handedness against Manchester United fans during this week's Champions League game against AS Roma.

Orazio Licandro, a lawmaker with the Communist party PDCI, said he would ask the interior minister to urgently comment on the new development in parliament.

'The testimony introduces elements which suggest a completely different case from the official version and makes us seriously consider that the death of Raciti could have been a tragic and banal accident,' Licarno said.

Right-wing senator Roberto Calderoli said: 'Out of respect for our security forces, we need to clear things up.'

Raciti's death was initially attributed to a firecracker exploding in his face.

An autopsy later showed he died after suffering injuries to his ribs and liver due a blow from a blunt object, which prosecutors pinned on a piece of metal hurled by the teenager suspect.

But the defence team for the boy, whose name has not been made public because of his age, says that his injuries were consistent with him being hit by a car. The teenager is in jail awaiting trial.

Raciti's death outraged Italy and prompted the government to temporarily suspend matches and pass tougher laws to improve security at stadiums.

The chief prosecutor in Catania, Gaspare La Rosa, said on Friday the policeman's testimony was known by magistrates when they ordered the arrest of the teenager and that no new line of investigation was being considered.