Albania flag-flying drone stops Serbia soccer match, sparks scuffles (PHOTOS)
A soccer match between Serbia and Albania was suspended after a drone with the Greater Albanian flag appeared at the stadium. The Albanian PM’s brother has been blamed for the incident, considered by Serbian authorities as a political provocation.
A drone materialized after the first half of the match at the Partizan Stadium in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, carrying the flag of so-called Greater Albania - created by Albanian nationalists.
Greater Albania is a concept of unifying all the lands where the Albanian population historically lived. Apart from the Republic of Albania, that includes Kosovo and the Presevo Valley in Serbia, part of southern Montenegro and territories in the west of the Republic of Macedonia. Northwestern Greece is also considered the part of Greater Albania.
Serbian national team player Stefan Mitrovic grabbed the flag, while two Albanian players immediately tried to stop him. This ignited the whole stadium, leading to chaos and mass scuffles.
British referee Martin Atkinson was forced to suspend play in the 41st minute with no goals scored.
The match later resumed, but was later called off as fans threw flares on to the field.
"What happened is something we can't comprehend at the moment," Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic told EuroSport. "On behalf of my team, all I can say is that we wanted to carry on and that we shielded the Albanian players every step of the way to the tunnel [after the riot broke out].”
Later it turned out that the instigator of the drone was the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Olsi Rama, who was reportedly arrested in the VIP box after the match.
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"He was arrested on suspicion that he masterminded and executed the incident in which a flag with a map of Greater Albania was flown over the pitch and the terraces, after which the match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned," according to the Serbian news agency.
Another report said that Rama was on his way to Albania’s capital of Tirana. He has landed in Serbia using his American passport. He has been living in the US since 1997.
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Fifteen football fans were arrested following the incident, and eight criminal cases have been launched. Another 11 people may face charges later, according to the Serbian Interior Ministry.
Meanwhile, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the incident was “a political provocation.” “This has never happened at any of the soccer matches and was prepared in advance,” he said.
"The main question for me is how will the European Union and UEFA react, because if someone from Serbia had unveiled a flag of Greater Serbia in Tirana or Pristina [the capital of Kosovo] it would already be on the agenda at the UN Security Council.”
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UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings against the football associations of Serbia and Albania over the throwing of fireworks and missiles during the game.
“The case will be dealt with by the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on 23 October,” UEFA said in a statement.
In light of the historically tense relationship between Serbia and Albania due to Kosovo, there was increased security at the match.
The Republic of Kosovo, a partially recognized state, became independent in 2008. Among the countries which recognized the republic’s status were the US, Canada, Australia and some countries of the EU.
The majority of the population is Albanian - 92 percent - and only 4 percent Serb.
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In the meantime, UEFA is planning to open disciplinary cases against Serbia and Albania over the stadium violence.
“We will open disciplinary cases against both federations this morning,” said a UEFA spokesman.
“Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics of any kind. The scenes in Belgrade last night were inexcusable,” UEFA president Michel Platini told journalists.
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