Belgrade, February 4 (AP) Serbian police raided the stadiums of the country’s two largest football clubs on Thursday after arresting 17 people linked to fan groups accused of organized crime, drug trafficking and murder.
Heavily armed riot police ordered all staff at neighboring Partizan and Red Star stadiums in Belgrade to leave the premises and training courses were suspended while the offices were searched.
Police said those arrested were “hiding” behind a Partizan support group, but “responsible for a number of the most monstrous crimes” committed in the past 10 years.
“They’re not football fans, they’re criminals,” said police commander Ninoslav Cmolic.
Serbian media reported that Partizan fan leader Veljko Belivuk was detained overnight. Belivuk, also known as Velja Nevolja or Velja the Trouble, has often been linked to criminal activity but has reportedly been able to stay free due to its links with politicians.
Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Serbia “is a serious country that will not tolerate further creation of a criminal clan that believes it is stronger than the state.”
More than a dozen prominent figures from the country’s football fans have been murdered in recent years. Most perished in gangland-style murders.
Serbia has tolerated hooliganism in the past, which has often resulted in violence and nationalist outbreaks in stadiums. During the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, many of them joined infamous paramilitary groups known for war crimes against other national groups in the former Yugoslavia.
With the populists’ return to power in Serbia eight years ago, right-wing football fans were often seen attending pro-government rallies promoting part of their nationalist political agenda. In return, according to analysts, the hooligans were allowed to carry out their illegal business activities. (AP)
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