ATHENS – Two days after Greece’s suspended soccer league, troubled with violence and the specter of the owner of Thessaloniki-based PAOK brandishing a gun on the field, riots erupted again after league officials promised there would be calm.
Supporters of the Athens-based Olympiakos soccer club clashed with riot police on March 27 outside a hotel in Piraeus where Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, a known supporter of bitter rival PAOK, was scheduled to give a speech.
Some 70 supporters gathered outside the Theoxenia hotel to protest against the government and Tsakalotos with a bitter divide between Athens and Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city, spilling over into more violence after it was promised there would be no more.
Fans set fire to dumpsters, formed roadblocks and threw rocks, bricks, bottles and other objects at riot police who used tear gas to disperse them, said Kathimerini.
A match between the two clubs earlier in the year was abandoned before it got started when the Olympiakos coach was struck in the face by a paper roll thrown from the stands where the PAOK supporters were seated.
PAOK faced a heavy penalty for that but it was almost instantly removed, leading critics to say Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government was favoring businessman Ivan Savvidis, owner of the Thessaloniki team who has effusively praised the Premier.
Savvidis has been in hiding for more than two weeks after running on to his home field with a weapon in his holster to protest a waved-off goal. He’s facing arrest but Greek police haven’t been able to find one of the country’s most prominent and visible figures.
The government lifted its suspension of the country’s soccer league after saying it received a commitment from clubs to reform rules aimed at combating violence, a promise that didn’t last 48 hours following a previous pattern of violence leading to the league stopping leading to the government reneging on promises to crack down leading to the league restarting leading to more violence.
League organizers say games will restart March 31 with additional midweek matches to be planned to compensate for the two-week suspension.
The government announced the decision following talks with Greek clubs and a delegation from FIFA which visited Athens this month and had threatened to expel the country from international competition as it has done before with idle warnings that never were carried out, followed by more violence in Greek soccer followed by more alleged crackdowns.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)