Italy cancels football after policeman killed in riot

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The Independent Online

Football has been halted in Italy after a police officer was killed when fans rioted at a match.

Fans at the Serie A match between Sicilian sides Catania and Palermo rioted outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during the second half yesterday.

Police fired tear gas, which wafted into the stadium and forced the match to be temporarily suspended in the 58th minute with Palermo leading 1-0.

Television footage from Sky TG24 News showed players struggling to breathe and pouring bottled water on their faces.

Police said the officer died after an explosive device was thrown inside his vehicle.

The violence continued after the game, in which Palermo beat Catania 2-1, trapping hundreds of fans inside the stadium as authorities sought to avoid further violence and stop people from leaving.

The ANSA news agency reported that nine Catania fans had been detained, but none was suspected of killing the officer.

Federation (FIGC) commissioner Luca Pancalli called an emergency meeting in Rome last night, and announced he was cancelling all games, the federation said.

"The decision to block the championships was immediate," Pancalli told a news conference after the meeting. "We cannot continue like this. What we're witnessing has nothing to do with soccer, therefore Italian soccer is stopping."

Italy's premier, president and other top officials quickly condemned the violence.

"I feel it is my duty to say that we unfortunately need a loud and clear signal to avoid the degeneration of the sport that we, unfortunately and dramatically, are witnessing," Prime Minister Romano Prodi was quoted as saying by Italian news agencies.

Prodi and President Giorgio Napolitano also said their thoughts were with the family of the officer, who was identified as Chief Inspector Filippo Raciti.

Napolitano released a statement urging authorities to take a firm stand "against degenerations that demean the values of the sport and offend the country's civic conscience."

Pancalli added that the decision to postpone the weekend's remaining games was not enough, and said there would be more meetings on Monday "to identify those drastic measures that will allow us to restart. Otherwise, we're not restarting the games."

The FIGC also cancelled Wednesday's friendly between Italy and Romania and an under-21 friendly scheduled for Tuesday against Belgium.

The federation said that another police officer was in critical condition, and police said dozens of people with lesser injuries had been taken to local hospitals.

Police defended security measures at the game.

"We're talking about incidents that happened outside the stadium and after the game had already started," police Cmdr. Piero Gambuzza told Sky TG24 News. "Police did not allow anyone with explosives to enter the stadium."

The violence follows last month's death of a fourth-division team manager from injuries he received when he tried to stop a brawl during a game.