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Sunday 17 December 2017

Prime Minister's brother denies controlling drone

A Serbian national team supporter, left, fights members of the Albanian national soccer team the match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade (AP)
A Serbian national team supporter, left, fights members of the Albanian national soccer team the match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade (AP)

The brother of Albania's prime minister has denied involvement in an incendiary flag-flying stunt that triggered a brawl on the pitch and accusations of a political conspiracy to harm Balkan relations.

Tuesday's Serbia v Albania Euro 2016 qualifier - at which Albanian fans were barred due to tensions between the two countries - was called off when a remote-conrolled plane flew the flag of "Greater Albania" above the field, sparking a brawl that forced Albanian players to flee.

Serbia's foreign minister blamed the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, with reports that Olsi Rama had been arrested in the VIP stands of the Belgrade stadium with the remote control in his hands.

Olsi denied that and a group of Albanian soccer fans claimed they were behind the stunt, which further soured relations between the countries that hit their lowest point in the 1990s war in the former Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are the majority.

Serbian media said 45-year-old Olsi had managed to get around the ban on Albanian fans thanks to the help of some European diplomats, an accusation that the European Union's envoy to Belgrade denied in a Twitter post.

Olsi, who also has US nationality, returned to Albania on the team's plane and told Reuters he had been "taken aside" by Serbian police but not arrested.

"I've never used a drone in my life, only bought my son a toy helicopter," he said.

The Serbian FA has launched fierce criticism of the Albania team claiming their team acted with restraint despite being provoked by the "offensive" flag and were then attacked when they tried to remove it from the field.

The Football Association of Serbia said Albania's reaction to the controversy had been "scandalous" and suggested it had been a "scenario of a terrorist action planned in advance".

The statement said: "Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic managed to catch the flag and, as it can be clearly seen on all the footages, started to fold it as calmly as possible, in order to give it to the fourth official and for the match to be continued.

"All the Serbian players and officials on the bench were in their seats, calm and without any attempt to show force or rage. However, Albanian players physically attacked Mitrovic.

"They are directly guilty for the match abandonment and we expect that UEFA disciplinary bodies will register the match with 3-0 result, in favour of Serbia."

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