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Friday, March 30, 2007
Team sports suspended after injuries, death

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece's government suspended all team-sport matches Friday and police raided dozens of homes and supporters' clubs after a fan was killed during clashes before a women's volleyball match.

Sixteen were arrested in connection with the riot and charged with murder and six other felonies.

Prime minister Costas Karamanlis ordered the two-week suspension, which covers soccer, basketball, volleyball and other sports and will last until April 13. The clubs involved in the volleyball match have several teams in different sports but draw the overwhelming amount of support for their soccer teams.

Michalis Filopoulos, 25, died Thursday and seven others were hospitalized -- mostly with stab wounds -- after fans from rival Panathinaikos Athens and Olympiakos Piraeus clashed near Athens.

Amateur videos of the violence, broadcast on Greek television, showed scores of people arriving at the scene on scooters before clashing with rival supporters, wielding bats and knives and hurling petrol bombs and rocks. Police arrested 13 at the scene, seizing knives, flare guns, brass knuckles and other weapons, and three more were arrested later.

The 16 all were charged with murder, membership in a criminal gang and other offenses.

"Violence in sport is something that affects our entire society ... and cannot be tolerated," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said Friday after an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by Karamanlis.

Roussopoulos also promised to tighten sentencing laws for violent fans and introduce mandatory surveillance cameras at all main soccer stadiums by 2008.

"These crimes are not anonymous. Specific people are responsible," Roussopoulos said.

The suspension will effectively delay matches for a week, as it coincides with a planned recess for the April 8 Easter holiday.

The Greece action follows a similar response last month by Italian authorities, who suspended all professional soccer matches following the death of a police officer in rioting at a game between Sicilian rivals Catania and Palermo.

Greek sports have been plagued by fan violence for years.

UEFA is likely to punish the national soccer team following its 4-1 loss at home to Turkey on Saturday in a European Championship qualifier. Greek fans clashed among themselves and pelted Turkish players with sticks, coins and plastic water bottles.

Greek soccer league officials expressed support for the government's ban and promised to help police catch violent fans.

"The events [on Thursday] are a disgrace ... We have to isolate these people because sport is supposed to be about people having fun," league head Petros Kokkalis said.

State coroner Christos Lefkidis said Filopoulos was killed by multiple stab wounds and head injuries.

The clashes occurred before a Greek Cup volleyball match between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos.

Both clubs support teams in soccer, basketball and other sports, and rival supporters in the past have clashed at various sporting events.

Police on Friday raided 15 supporters' clubs of Olympiakos and Panathinaikos and homes of prominent club members, seizing dozens of makeshift weapons including pick axes, iron bars and baseball bats.

Greece plays its next Euro 2008 soccer qualifier June 2 against Hungary.