Italian league faces suspension after riots

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MILAN, Nov 12 (Reuters) Italian soccer could be suspended for a number of weeks under a government proposal today after widespread fan violence was sparked by the shooting of a Lazio supporter by a police officer yesterday.

The Italian soccer federation (FIGC) was meeting later today to decide what to do and could halt league action for the second time in a year because of hooliganism.

''I have asked the soccer authorities if there is the possibility of a strong gesture, in particular the suspension of the championships for the next few weeks,'' Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri told reporters.

Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport Web site (www.gazzetta.it) said that the national anti-hooligan body had also proposed the banning of away supporters at all grounds.

Riots hit Rome yesterday, with fans attacking a police barracks as well as the Olympic Stadium and causing extensive damage to the headquarters of the Italian Olympic Committee next door.

At least 40 police were hurt in Rome alone, officials said.

A top-flight game between Atalanta and AC Milan in Bergamo was also abandoned after seven minutes when fans tried to break down a glass barrier keeping them from the pitch.

Italy play in Scotland in a crunch Euro 2008 qualifier on Saturday, meaning there is no top-flight action next weekend, but lower league action could be curtailed sooner.

The world champions would be in serious danger of missing next year's finals in Austria and Switzerland if they lost in Glasgow but coach Roberto Donadoni has other things on his mind.

''What happened in Bergamo and Rome is pure madness. I also believe we are hostages to this violence but we cannot be slaves in this way,'' Donadoni told reporters.

MANSLAUGHTER PROBE Police said the fatal shooting of Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri yesterday was accidental and are investigating how the officer made such a ''tragic error''.

The unnamed officer encountered a disturbance between fans of Rome club Lazio and Turin's Juventus at a motorway service station near the Tuscan city of Arezzo.

''I didn't point it at anything, I didn't aim at anybody,'' he told Corriere della Sera. ''The first shot I fired into the air and the second left me while I was running. Now I have destroyed two families, the man's and mine.'' The officer is under investigation for manslaughter and has been re-assigned to internal duties, police said.

Italy has a well-known hooligan problem and yesterday's violence mirrored riots outside a Catania match in Sicily in February, where a policeman was killed and the league was suspended for a short time.

That incident led to strict new security measures at soccer stadiums but authorities may have to look again at the rules.

Soccer officials will also meet to discuss what to do about the Inter Milan v Lazio and AS Roma v Cagliari matches, which were postponed yesterday because of the shooting and whether to play the Atalanta game or award the points to Milan.

A report last month said injuries at stadiums caused by fan violence had dropped by 80 percent from last season but the federation has often said that it can do little to stamp out trouble away from stadiums, such as in Arezzo.

Sandri's father posted a message in his shop window saying: ''Yesterday a dirty bastard killed my son, may he be damned forever.'' REUTERS RAR HT2158

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