Football: Serbia-Albania match abandoned over drone chaos

Football: Serbia-Albania match abandoned over drone chaos

BELGRADE, Serbia - A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a drone carrying a political message was flown over the stadium late Tuesday, sparking mayhem among Serbian supporters.

The match between the Balkan rivals was scoreless when it was stopped in the 41st minute after the drone flying a "Greater Albania" flag flew over the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade and was brought down by a Serbia player.

The incident triggered clashes between the two sets of footballers as some of the 20,000 home fans tried to assault Albanian players.

The brother of Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama was arrested over the mayhem, Serbia's interior ministry said.

Olsi Rama was accused of controlling the drone from his seat in an executive box in the stadium, the ministry said, according to Serbia's RTS state television station.

The prime minister's brother denied he had been arrested, or had any involvement in the drone incident, and later returned to Tirana.

Serbian fans hurled smoke bombs and other missiles onto the pitch in protest in a game from which Albanian fans had been barred by the Serbian Football Federation on Sunday.

The incident comes just days before Edi Rama is due to make the first visit by an Albanian premier to Serbia for 68 years.

Rama's visit, set for next Wednesday, became possible after the normalisation of bilateral relations was sealed in April 2013 in an agreement brokered by the European Union.

'We wanted to continue'

Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been strained over the issue of the mainly ethnic Albanian former Serbian province of Kosovo and the Albanian minority in southern Serbia, who frequently demand more autonomy.

In Belgrade, some see Tirana's interest as part of a plan aimed at creating a "Greater Albania" that would unite Albanian communities in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and southern Serbia.

Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008, has been recognised by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most European Union member states.

The premature and violent end to Tuesday's game was greeted with joy by nearly 5,000 Kosovar Albanians who gathered to watch on TV in the Kosovo capital Pristina, shouting "Greater Albania" and "victory".

The Serbian national team captain, Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, voiced his dismay at the evening's events.

"In the name of my team I can say that we wanted to continue the match... but the Albanian players said they weren't in the physical or psychological state to continue," he said.

The formation of Kosovo was made possible by a bloody chain of events after the end of the Soviet era.

The demise of the Soviet Union in 1990-91 created the conditions for the bloody wars that broke Yugoslavia apart into six multi-ethnic states, including Serbia.

NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign which led to Serb troops pulling out of Kosovo in 1999 and brought an end to the Serbian government's repression of the ethnic Albanian population.

Serbia says the NATO airstrikes killed 2,500 civilians, including 89 children, a figure contested by NATO.

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