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Roma-Lazio riot was 'pre-arranged'

Silvio Berlusconi

ROME, Italy -- Italian politicians on Monday claimed the rioting that led to the abandonment of Sunday's clash between Roman rivals Roma and Lazio was pre-organized by hardcore supporters from both sides.

Police said they had arrested 18 supporters during a six-hour pitched battle that left more than 170 people injured.

Violence erupted during the second half as a false rumor spread around the Olympic Stadium that a young boy had been killed by a police car outside the ground.

Roma captain Francesco Totti asked for the match to be stopped after speaking to a fan on the sidelines as some Roma fans set fire to the terraces, sending other terrified spectators streaming onto the pitch.

Outside the ground hundreds of fans wearing both sides' colors hurled flares, bottles and knives from behind barricades at police, who responded with tear gas.

Italian Football League president Adriano Galliani also ordered the match stopped by telephone for reasons of public order.

On Monday politicians linked the disorder to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's warning on Saturday that "revolution would explode" on the terraces unless the government helped out Italian football, which has debts totaling more than $600 million and faces several fraud investigations.

"It seems like an operation aimed at blackmailing the government," said welfare minister Roberto Maroni.

Strong pressure

"It was planned to place strong pressure at a moment when the executive must make an important decision."

Berlusconi, president of European champions AC Milan, has been blamed by some critics for the culture of heavy spending that has led many clubs into financial difficulties.

"I suspect that all that happened was pre-arranged -- in politics you call it a strategy of tension," said culture ministry undersecretary Mario Pescante.

Police searching the ground on Monday said they had found paper bombs stuffed with nails, screws and metal shards as well as knives, clubs and sticks.

They added that the number of arrests could rise as they studied close-circuit television footage.

A total of 155 police officers were wounded and 21 fans were hurt, police said.

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