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Soccer Match in Serbia Erupts in Riot Set Off by Drone

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By ROBERT MACKEY OCT. 14, 2014

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    A soccer match between the national teams of Serbia and Albania had to be abandoned on Tuesday night in Belgrade after rioting provoked by the sudden appearance of a small drone, flying low over the stadium and trailing an Albanian nationalist banner.

    Video recorded by a spectator in the stands showed the immediate reaction from the Serbian fans, who booed and whistled before taking up a chant of “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Albanians, as a flare was thrown onto the field of play.

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    Video shot by a witness to the appearance of a drone trailing an Albanian nationalist banner over a stadium in Belgrade on Tuesday. Acascentrala, via YouTube

    Serbian television showed the chaotic scenes that ensued after a Serbian player, Stefan Mitrovic, pulled down the banner as it dropped close to the field, and was immediately challenged by an Albanian player.

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    Serbian television coverage of the soccer match that descended into a riot on Tuesday night in Belgrade. RTS Sport, via YouTube

    After the players faced off, journalists in the press box watched in amazement as Serbian fans, some wielding chairs, streamed onto the field and began attacking the Albanian team.

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    Video of the fighting that ended a match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade. Video by acascentrala Continue reading the main story

    Mitrovic, jumps, grabs the flag as it falls – and all hell has now broken lose here. Players and officials on both sides fighting.

    — Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) Oct. 14, 2014
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    Mavraj takes the flag from Mitrović and the fight starts. Complete chaos. Players chasing on the pitch, some fans entering it.

    — Saša Ibrulj (@sasaibrulj) Oct. 14, 2014
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    pic.twitter.com/j7air6Hu84

    — Mëmëdhe G. Ibrahimi (@MemedheIbrahimi) Oct. 14, 2014
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    Hooligan greift albanischen Spieler an #seralb #uefa2016 pic.twitter.com/tMcfGr8A3W

    — klaudio.photography (@klaudiophotos) Oct. 14, 2014
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    Serb hooligans enter soccer field and hit Albanian players. Soccer and boxing do not go together. Shame! pic.twitter.com/CqxxX13BUE

    — Albania in UN (@AlMissionUN) Oct. 14, 2014

    The officials, led by the English referee Martin Atkinson, then decided to suspend the game, and the players ran to their locker rooms.

    Even before the incident, the atmosphere in the stadium had resembled a Serb nationalist rally, since Europe’s governing body for soccer, UEFA, had recommended barring Albanian fans from the ground to prevent any politically motivated clashes. (Ultranationalist soccer fans in Serbia previously played a central role in the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart along ethnic lines in the 1990s.)

    In a match report for The Guardian that seemed closer to an account of a boxing contest than a soccer game, the correspondents Nick Ames and Sasa Ibrulj reported:

    Mitrovic caught the flag and was immediately accosted by Albanian players Andi Lila and Taulant Xhaka, the insignia eventually ending up in the hands of the striker Bekim Balaj, who began to carry it towards the touchline. By this time, officials and substitutes from both teams had entered the pitch, the Serbian replacement Nenad Tomovic running from the bench and blocking Balaj’s path. At the same time, a supporter attacked Balaj with a plastic chair which prompted a violent melee.

    Images shared on Twitter showed that the Albanian players — including a large contingent born in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with an Albanian majority that fought a bitter war for its independence 15 years ago — were then kicked and pelted by objects thrown from the stands as they retreated.

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    Ovo nismo videli, ali svet jeste! pic.twitter.com/rFkffK16Xr

    — Milan Mića Jovanović (@MilanMJovanovic) Oct. 14, 2014

    The banner that provoked the riot celebrated Albanian heroes, including one who fought the Serbs in the early 20th century, and ultranationalist aspirations for a state of “Greater Albania,” which would include all of Kosovo. The banner was also emblazoned with the word “autochthonous,” a reference to the Albanians’ claim that they are the indigenous people of the Balkans, descended from the ancient Illyrians, and that the Serbs are mere interlopers.

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    A flag appeared in #Belgrade. 2 biggest #Albanian heroes Ismail Qemali & Isa Boletini on. #Autocthounous #SERALB pic.twitter.com/DIHz9nfkXq

    — Vigan Qorrolli (@ViganQorrolli) Oct. 14, 2014

    On social networks, the stunt was broadly condemned by Serbs as an unbearable provocation and celebrated by Albanians as a triumphant gesture.

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    Flag of Greater Albania that "landed" on a stadium in Belgrade. Horrible and extremely unsportsmanlike provocation pic.twitter.com/mlOZ8sLBUx

    — Zoran Sokić (@Solisio) Oct. 14, 2014
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    Kjo o si me t'hi prej oxhaku #AUTOCHTHONUS #ProudToBeAlbanian pic.twitter.com/EvaLAaRMOR

    — Fitim (@FitimHotii) Oct. 14, 2014
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    #AUTOCHTHONUS pic.twitter.com/mnlj6o0XED

    — Mëmëdhe G. Ibrahimi (@MemedheIbrahimi) Oct. 14, 2014

    The episode inflamed nationalist passions far beyond the stadium, with reports of tension in the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, which is divided between ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

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    Video posted online on Tuesday night showed a crowd of Albanians responding in kind to the chant they heard in Belgrade earlier in the evening, chanting, “Kill! Kill! Kill Serbs!”

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    Albanians chanting "Kill Serbs!" on Tuesday night in the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. Kosovo Sever Portal, via YouTube

    Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, told the Belgrade daily Blic that European Union diplomats had pressed Serbian authorities to allow Albanian fans without tickets for the match to go to the stadium anyway.

    Meanwhile in Tirana, Albania’s capital, fans waited to greet the players returning from Belgrade as heroes, according to Albania’s youth minister, Erion Veliaj.

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    Tens of thousands celebrating proudly in Tirana & Mother Teresa Airport, awaiting team Albania return from Belgrade pic.twitter.com/V83KqiF2tP

    — Erion Veliaj (@erionveliaj) Oct. 14, 2014

    Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania posted an image of the celebrations on his Twitter feed, along with a note expressing pride in the team’s performance before the match was abandoned and regrets about the poor behavior of “the neighbors.”

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    #ForcaShqiperia pic.twitter.com/1zFIUEeSm1

    — Edi Rama (@ediramaal) Oct. 15, 2014

    Commenting on an image taken at the airport in Tirana, the Serbian blogger Vladan Dukanovic observed that it seemed as if Albanians were “determined to outdo us in nationalist frenzy and stupidity.”

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    Aerodrom u Tirani. Nema šta, Albanci su definitivno odlučili da nas pobijede u ludilu nacionalnog zanosa i gluposti. pic.twitter.com/xP3UZj6Sl6

    — Vladan Đukanović (@VladanBa) Oct. 15, 2014

    Pedro Pinto, a spokesman for UEFA, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that authorities planned to “open disciplinary cases against both national associations.”

    Correction: October 15, 2014
    An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the foreign minister of Serbia. He is Ivica Dacic, not Dadic.

    #auto

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