AREZZO, Italy (Reuters) - A policeman shot dead a soccer fan in Italy on Sunday while trying to break up a scuffle between supporters of rival clubs, sparking stadium violence in at least four cities.
Three top league matches were called off after the shooting, which police said was accidental and took place after Lazio and Juventus supporters clashed at a motorway rest stop near the Tuscan city of Arezzo.
“It was a tragic error,” the police chief in Arezzo, Vincenzo Giacobbe, said in a statement. “Our agent intervened to prevent the scuffles between two small groups of people ... from degenerating,” he said.
“I express my deep grief and sincere condolences to the family of the victim.”
He later told reporters that the policeman had fired two shots, one of which had fatally wounded in the neck Gabriele Sandri, a 26-year old disc jockey from Rome who was in a car of Lazio fans.
“They killed my brother,” Cristiano Sandri shouted at reporters at the police station in Arezzo. “It was voluntary homicide,” said the family’s lawyer, Luigi Conti.
As news of the death spread among supporters gathering at stadiums, Italy’s football league postponed Lazio’s match with champions Inter Milan, due to kick off at 9:00 a.m. EST.
In the northern city of Bergamo, Atalanta’s match with AC Milan was abandoned after supporters tried to smash down a glass barrier keeping them from the pitch.
Fearing more trouble, authorities later also called off an evening match between Lazio’s city rival AS Roma and Cagliari but some fans tore down garbage bins and launched fire crackers outside Rome’s Olympic stadium.
In Milan, hundreds of Lazio fans threw rocks at a police station in protest at the shooting and marched towards the city centre shouting “Assassins!” at security forces. Crowd trouble also marred a third league match in the southern city Taranto.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called the violence “very worrying”.
Italy is battling a serious soccer hooligan problem and suspended all soccer for a period in February when a policeman was killed in riots outside a top-flight match in Catania.
Sporadic violence has continued in recent months despite the security crackdown prompted by February’s incident.
Officials said last month that fan injuries caused by violence around stadiums had been cut by 80 percent from last season but that it was difficult to combat violence away from the grounds.
Reporting by Roberto Landucci, Emilio Parodi and Mark Meadows; Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Tim Pearce