Troops keep peace at football 'war'
Thursday 03 December 1998
Turkey has been in the grip of violent anti-Italian hysteria since Rome refused to hand over the Kurdish guerrilla Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who is regarded by most Turks as a terrorist responsible for the death of at least 30,000 people.
Italian-made goods have been burnt in the streets and there has been an unofficial boycott of trade with Italy. "This isn't football; it's war," said Serdar Gul, an Istanbul taxi-driver. It was a sentiment echoed all over the city.
The match was postponed for a week because of Juventus's fears for their safety in the fevered atmosphere.
The Ali Sami Yen stadium has a reputation in normal times as an intimidating cauldron where visiting teams are greeted with banners announcing "Welcome to Hell". Galatasaray fans at Istanbul airport yesterday threw white lilies before the Juventus bus - a hospitable gesture - but the Italian players looked out apprehensively.
Then Turin team risked the wrath of Uefa (the European football association) by refusing to travel to Istanbul for the requisite overnight stay, and arrived only hours before the match. They boarded their charter flight at Turin airport with long faces, despite a pep-talk from the coach, Marcello Lippi, urging them to put their worries behind them and concentrate on the game.
"One thing is for certain," Lippi said. "We're not going to end up like the turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I don't know whether we will be able to forget all that is going on around us but we will try to do the right thing".
The Italian Football Federation president, Luciano Nizzola, said that he was "very impressed" with the security precautions Turkey had taken.
"We weren't expecting such a warm reception," he said from the team's hotel on the Bosphorus. The managers of the Turin club have nevertheless supported the players' wish to remain in Turkey for as short a time as possible, just 13 hours, even though this means a hefty fine. The Juventus chairman, Vittorio Chiusano, said he would be pleased if the match helped ease the tension between Rome and Ankara. "If in the past there had been ping-pong diplomacy, now there will be football diplomacy," he said optimistically.
Galatasaray said it was expecting some Italian fans to attend the game. "We've taken every precaution, but there won't be a problem. Football isn't about politics," a spokesman said. At least one Turkish fan agreed. "There's no chance of any problems; the Turkish people are brothers of sport. And anyway, it's impossible with this level of security," Aydin Burdek said.
The match coincided with the appointment of Bulent Ecevit as Turkey's new Prime Minister after his predecessor fell in a corruption scandal. Mr Ecevit is likely to maintain Turkey's tough stance over Mr Ocalan.
As the Juventus squad arrived in Turkey the Italian parliament was about to begin a debate on the Ocalan case. Italy's Foreign Minister, Lamberto Dini, has confirmed that he would meet his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, next Tuesday during a Nato ministerial session in Brussels.
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