ROME: A hardcore of Lazio and AS Roma football fans may have worked together to start a riot which caused the Rome derby to be abandoned on Sunday, politicians said on Monday.
Police arrested 18 supporters from both sides, some of them known hooligans, after the hotly-anticipated match turned into a six-hour pitched battle between police and fans that left more than 170 people injured.
It was pure guerrilla warfare, one police official said.
Some politicians connected the violence with a controversial proposal to pass a law that would help bail out Italy's cash-strapped clubs by giving them tax breaks.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, supports the law and a day before the violence said he feared that revolution will explode on the terraces if the government does not step in to help the clubs' finances.
It seems to me like an attempt to blackmail the government. It was planned to place strong pressure at a time when the government has to make an important decision, said Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni.
Lazio and Roma are at the centre of Italy's Save Soccer dispute, together shouldering around 200mil euros (US$246.9mil) of debt, but still boasting some of the most highly-paid players.
The violence erupted when the game was abandoned in the second half after a false rumour circulated that a young boy had been killed by a police car outside the Olympic Stadium.
Among those arrested were three ultras, Italy's hooligan hardcore, who in an unprecedented move came onto the pitch to give Roma Captain Francesco Totti a false story. Totti then asked for the match to be stopped.
Despite repeated police reassurances over the public address system that no one had been killed, Roma fans set fire to the stands, sending terrified supporters, including many young children, streaming out over the terraces.
Commentators also questioned why Italian Football League president Adriano Galliani ordered the match to stop via telephone from Milan when stadium security staff said there was no risk if the game went on.
Outside the stadium hundreds of fans wearing Roma and Lazio colours hurled flares, bottles and knives from behind makeshift barricades. Police responded with volleys of tear gas.
More than 150 police were wounded and 21 fans were hurt.
Police searching the grounds outside the stadium on Monday said they had found paper bombs stuffed with nails, screws and metal shards as well as knives, bars and sticks, adding weight to suspicions that the violence was pre-planned.
Police said closed-circuit television footage could lead to more arrests.
I suspect that all that happened was pre-arranged: in politics you call it a strategy of tension, Culture Ministry Undersecretary Mario Pescante said, a former head of the Italian Olympic Committee CONI.
The European Union has already moved to limit previous government efforts to help out Italian football which also faces a series of fraud investigations. Reuters