THE brother of Albaniaâ€™s prime minister has denied being behind the incendiary flag-flying stunt that led to the abandonment of his countryâ€™s Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia.
The game was called off after fighting broke out between players, fans and officials on the pitch of the Partizan Stadium after a drone appeared above it, flying a flag bearing an insignia of â€œGreater Albaniaâ€.
The flag was caught by the Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic, setting off chain of events that is likely to lead to severe repercussions from Uefa, who are set to bring charges against both nations.
Serbiaâ€™s foreign minister blamed the brother of Edi Rama, the Albanian prime minister, amid reports that Olsi Rama had been arrested in the VIP stands of the Belgrade stadium with the remote control in his hands.
Serbian media said that the 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 Unionâ€™s envoy to Belgrade denied via Twitter.
Olsi, who also has US nationality, returned to Albania on the teamâ€™s plane and admitted he had been â€œtaken asideâ€ by Serbian police during the melee, but not arrested. He added: â€œIâ€™ve never used a drone in my life, only bought my son a toy helicopter.â€
Meanwhile, a fan group has claimed responsibility, posting an image online of men posing with what appeared to be an identical drone, a â€œquadcopterâ€. Under the caption â€œDeeds, not just words,â€ one of the fans wrote: â€œThis was not my idea, but that of my uncleâ€™s son. We never believed it would be done so successfully. I am very happy.â€
It was unclear how credible the claim of responsibility was, but the diplomatic fallout threatens to overshadow â€“ even derail â€“ a historic visit by Prime Minister Rama to Belgrade on 22 October, the first by an Albanian leader since the former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1946.
Ramaâ€™s visit has been seen as heralding a thaw between two countries united in a common goal to join the European Union. However Serbiaâ€™s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, told the Serbian daily Blic: â€œ[Olsi Rama] was supposed to be here as a guest. That gives the event a political dimension; this was a political provocation.â€
Albaniaâ€™s prime minister tweeted: â€œProud of the black and red team who, while soccer was being played, won the game with their play and chances. Regret for our neighbours who presented themselves badly with their ugly show.â€ – The Guardian